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German security council backs export deals to Mideast nations

By Sabine Siebold

BERLIN, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Germany's national security council has approved the export of arms to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries in the Middle East, according to a document from Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel obtained by Reuters.

The decision stood in stark contrast to government action in May, when two-thirds of proposed arms export licenses were declined, according to media reports, including to Arab states that have now got the go-ahead for deals.

It was not clear if these were the same accords that were rejected earlier this year and there was no immediate comment from the German government, which has faced fierce criticism from local arms manufacturers over the recent curbs.

The security council holds its meetings in secrecy and is made up of Gabriel, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the ministers of defence, foreign affairs and development.

The document seen by Reuters, which Gabriel sent to members of parliament late Thursday, said the council had approved the export of 45 armoured vehicles to Qatar, made by Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann.

Amongst the arms approved for Saudi Arabia were six weapons systems for testing and electronic surveillance equipment. The security council also approved arms exports to Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria and Colombia.

Gabriel, a Social Democrat (SPD) and Vice Chancellor, had promised a much more cautious approach to licensing arms exports earlier this year, signalling a change from previous policy.

German arms exports have come under scrutiny because of the increasing sums involved and because a greater number of arms are heading to non-European Union or NATO partners, and potentially unstable regions.

In May, media reported Gabriel wanted to block two deals to sell arms to Qatar and Saudi Arabia worth billions of euros.

Defence firms, which employ some 80,000 people in Germany, have strongly criticised the stricter approach to deals, and the industry lobby warned last month that companies were looking to shift production abroad..

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Germany was the world's third largest arms exporter from 2008-2012, behind the United States and Russia.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Crispian Balmer)