Erdoğan visits Saudi Arabia to strengthen Ankara-Riyadh relations

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is visiting Saudi Arabia on Thursday for a two-day visit to discuss ways to strengthen ties between Ankara and Riyadh, a statement from the presidential communications directorate said.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his departure for Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan said his visit was an example of a common desire to start a new period with Riyadh.

Turkey will strive to open a new era of political, military, economic and cultural cooperation with Saudi Arabia, he added.

Erdoğan said he believed increased cooperation with Riyadh in health, energy, food security, defense industry and finance was mutually beneficial.

He expressed hope that the visit will improve relations based on mutual respect and trust, saying he will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

The president is visiting Jeddah at the invitation of King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia “will be examined in all aspects and possibilities for developing cooperation will be discussed”, the statement said.

“During the meetings, views will be exchanged on regional and international issues as well as bilateral relations,” he added.

Erdoğan is also expected to travel to Mecca, a short drive from Jeddah, to perform prayers at Islam’s holiest site in the final nights of Ramadan.

The visit comes as the two regional powers seek to mend nearly a decade of broken ties.

In the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, ideological differences and rival foreign policy goals have steered Ankara and Riyadh in different directions, making them fierce regional rivals.

Turkey’s support for popular movements linked to the Muslim Brotherhood initially favored the break with the Arab regimes which saw the political vision of the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat. In the process, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have supported opposing sides in many regional conflicts.

Subsequent developments, particularly the blockade of Turkey’s ally Qatar by its Gulf neighbors, deepened the split. The lifting of the embargo by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain early last year paved the way for reconciliation.

Erdoğan last visited Saudi Arabia in July 2017 as he attempted to resolve the blockade imposed on Qatar the previous month.

Turkey has sided with its main regional ally, Qatar, under the embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and two other Arab states. Turkey has since deepened its military ties with Qatar. The Arab quartet then demanded a series of U-turns from Qatar, including the expulsion of Turkish troops, but Doha rejected the demands, which it saw as violations of its sovereignty. The dispute was resolved last year with an agreement signed in Saudi Arabia.

While Erdoğan and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman maintained contact during the process, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), was seen as the face of Riyadh’s foreign policy and its hostility against Ankara.

Ties between the two countries were further strained after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The murder of Khashoggi, 59, a Saudi insider turned critic who wrote articles for the Washington Post , threw Saudi Arabia into international isolation and intensified Riyadh’s regional rivalry with Ankara.

The killing of Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate sparked global outrage and pressure on the prince, who is believed to have approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi, in a US intelligence report released a year ago. The Saudi government has always denied any involvement of the prince.

Erdoğan, without naming the prince, said the order to carry out the assassination came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

A Saudi court has jailed eight people for the September 2020 murder – a trial described as a sham by rights groups – but Turkey has also launched a case in absentia against 26 Saudi suspects.

The transfer of the case to Saudi Arabia on April 7 came at the request of the Turkish prosecutor, who said there was no prospect of arrest or taking statements from the defendants.

The decision earlier this month to transfer the charge to Saudi Arabia removed the final stumbling block to renewing Turkish-Saudi relations.

Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, had appealed the decision to suspend the trial in Turkey and transfer the case to Saudi Arabia, but an administrative court rejected the appeal last week.

After the war of words against Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia in 2020 imposed an unofficial boycott of Turkish imports. The end of the unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish goods, which cut Ankara’s exports by 90%, saw trade with Saudi Arabia reach $58 million last month, triple the year’s level previous but a fraction of the $298 million recorded in March 2020.

Over the past year, Ankara has embarked on a diplomatic campaign to reset relations with regional powers such as Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia after years of antagonism. Erdoğan reiterated that Turkey hopes to maximize its cooperation with Israel, Egypt and the Gulf countries “on a win-win basis”, at a time when Ankara is stepping up its diplomacy to mend its strained ties with these regional powers after years. of tension.

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