Saudi Crown Prince MbS to arrive in Turkey as two countries move to normalise ties

Ties between Ankara and Riyadh took a turn for the worse after a Saudi hit squad killed and dismembered Khashoggi in 2018 at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan at the time blamed it on the "highest levels" of the Saudi government

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Wednesday, June 22, 2022, 03:49 PM IST
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, meets Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on April 29, 2022 | AP

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is scheduled to arrive in Ankara on Wednesday, making his first visit to Turkey as the two regional heavyweights press ahead with efforts to repair ties following the slaying of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

Turkey is the final leg of a Middle East tour that took the Saudi crown prince to Egypt and Jordan. His visit comes before U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to the region next month.

The visit marks a step in Prince Mohammed's effort to rehabilite his image beyond the Gulf, and comes as Erdogan seeks financial support that could help relieve Turkey's beleaguered economy ahead of tight elections for the president.

Turkey's economy is badly strained by a slumping lira and inflation soaring beyond 70%. Saudi funds and foreign currency could help Erdogan shore up support ahead of elections by June 2023, analysts say.

Erdogan said talks with the prince, would focus on advancing Turkish-Saudi relations to a “much higher degree”. Erdogan visited Saudi Arabia in April, paying his first visit to the kingdom since 2017, a year before the killing of Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Rapproachment in the making

Turkey’s efforts to improve ties with Saudi Arabia comes as Turkey faces its worst economic crisis in two decades and is trying to draw investments from wealthy Gulf Arab states. Turkey has also taken steps to improve relations with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel.

Saudi Arabia for its part, has been trying to broaden its alliances at a time when relations between Riyadh and Washington are strained. The crown prince also seeks to put an end to the scandal over Khashoggi’s killing that damaged his reputation.

Turkey had opened a trial in absentia against 26 Saudis suspected in Khashoggi’s killing, but the court earlier this year ruled to halt the proceedings and transfer the case to Saudi Arabia, paving the way for the countries’ rapprochement.

The killing of Khashoggi had sparked global outrage and put pressure on the prince, who was said to have approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment. The prince has denied any knowledge of the operation that was carried out by agents who worked directly for him.

While never naming Prince Mohammed, Erdogan said the operation that killed Khashoggi was ordered by the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

Khashoggi had entered the consulate in October 2018 by appointment to obtain papers to allow him to wed his Turkish fiancée, who waited for him outside. He never emerged and his body was never found.

A complicated geopolitical landscape

Turkey has played a very edgy role in the Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict. Turkey itself is engaged in a proxy conflict with Iran, which backs anti-Turkish forces in Syria, Iraq, Libya, the Caucasus, and other regions.

Though Saudi and Turkey are both vastly Sunni majority nations, experiences over the Salafist movement, rivalry over leadership of the Islamic world and a recent neo-Ottoman outlook has caused extreme distrust between the two countries.

Turkey has rejected Saudi requests to join fight in Yemen. Turkey and Saudi Arabia often fluctuate between antagonism and alliance. In the Syrian Civil War, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are on the Syrian opposition side against Iran-backed Bashar al-Assad, but Turkey has sought to back the moderate forces, while Saudi Arabia has supported the radicals among the opposition, causing tension with Turkey.

Russian intervention forces Turkey and Saudi Arabia to have a level of compromise, but mutual distrust has hampered the process.

Outside Syria and Yemen, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have also clashed vying for influence in Libya. Turkey has been throwing significant support to the Islamist-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli, while Saudi Arabia, along with Egypt and the UAE, supported Khalifa Haftar's House of Representatives in Tobruk. Turkish action has gained support from Iran however, thus deepening mistrust between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Turkey has been traditionally refrained from funding Islamic schools, but since the 2010s, Turkey has begun funding more and more Islamic schools resulting in the perception in Saudi Arabia that Turkey is attempting to eradicate Saudi-funded madrasah. Although Turkey is attempting to limit Iranian influence, Turkey also similarly dislikes Saudi influence.

(with inputs from agencies)

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