Saudi minister visits Spain, reportedly for major tank deal
Saudi Arabia's deputy defence minister will visit Spain next week, officials said Friday, and he is reportedly considering the purchase of Leopard 2E tanks for up to three billion euros.
Prince Khaled bin Sultan, Saudi deputy minister of defence and aviation, will meet King Juan Carlos on Monday, according to the Royal Palace's diary.
He will also see Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on Tuesday, said a government spokesman, without giving details of their agenda.
Spain's leading El Pais daily this week said the Saudi minister may conclude the purchase of 200 to 270 Leopard 2E tanks for up to three billion euros (4.1 billion dollars), which would be a record deal for the country's defence export industry.
Spanish officials have not confirmed the report.
"There is still no contract. There is the possibility of an acquisition of combat tanks," said Raul Alvarez, spokesman for the defence sector of the major union Comisiones Obreras.
Alvarez said the contract could involve about 200 tanks.
Spain signed a military cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia in June 2008, seeking to strengthen relations particularly in training and scientific and technical cooperation.
Up to now cooperation has been focused on training Saudi pilots on the Eurofighter at southern Spanish air base of Moron.
Khaled is the de facto head of the defence ministry in the absence of his father, Saudi Crown Prince and Defence Minister Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, whose health has sparked concerns in recent years.
On Wednesday, Khaled said his father was in good health and taking his annual vacation.
Prince Sultan, minister of defence and aviation since 1962 and crown prince since 2005, left the country in November 2008 to undergo surgery in the United States and then to convalesce in Morocco, returning in December 2009.
© 2010 AFP