Visit to Saudi Arabia heralds new era in bilateral ties, Erdoğan says

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have demonstrated a common will to develop bilateral relations at the highest level based on mutual respect and trust, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Saturday.

“We are determined to continue this effort for our common interests and the stability of our region,” the president told reporters aboard the presidential plane on the return flight from a trip to Saudi Arabia.

“I believe that my visit will usher in a new era in relations between our two countries. We have demonstrated our common will to strengthen relations based on mutual respect and trust, very clearly and at the highest level,” he said. he declared.

Erdoğan expressed hope that joint bilateral efforts will bring benefits to both countries and the region.

During his two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan met with Saudi King Salman as well as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and discussed various international, regional and bilateral issues.

“We focused on joint steps we can take to improve our relations in the future…I reiterated our support for Saudi Arabia’s security and stability,” Erdoğan said.

He stressed that Turkey also attaches great importance to the security and stability of the Gulf region.

Ankara and Riyadh agreed on the need to bring together businessmen and investors from both countries, he added.

“We have agreed with Saudi Arabia to reactivate great economic potential through organizations that will bring our investors together,” Erdoğan said.

The president announced that Turkey would support Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Riyadh.

Relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have deteriorated in recent years, but the two countries are now seeking to renew ties.

Erdoğan and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince met to develop relations in the first visit since the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which drove a wedge between the two regional powers.

The last time Erdoğan visited Saudi Arabia was in 2017, when he tried to mediate in a dispute between the kingdom and other Gulf countries in Qatar.

Saudi state news agency SPA reported that the couple “reviewed Saudi-Turkish relations and ways to develop them in all areas.”

Erdoğan then traveled to the Islamic holy city of Mecca to perform an Umrah pilgrimage. Before flying from Istanbul to Saudi Arabia’s second city of Jeddah, where some roads were lined with Turkish and Saudi flags, Erdoğan said he hoped to “launch a new era” in bilateral relations as the visit came when the two regional powers were seeking 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 considered 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, in particular 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.

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

The murder of columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul has thrown an already tense and precarious relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia into a tailspin.

Saudi agents killed and dismembered insider-turned-critic Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. His remains have never been found.

This horrific act risked isolating Saudi Arabia, and in particular MBS, while intensifying Riyadh’s regional rivalry with Ankara.

Turkey has infuriated the Saudis by pursuing an investigation into the murder of a Washington Post columnist. Erdoğan said the “highest levels” of the Saudi government ordered the killing.

Saudi Arabia responded by unofficially putting pressure on the Turkish economy by boycotting Turkish imports.

But trade between the two has gradually improved, and in January Erdoğan said he was planning a visit to Saudi Arabia.

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 (TL 861.40 million) last month, or triple the previous year’s level, but a fraction of the $298 million recorded in March 2020.

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.

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 (UAE) 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.

“Friends, not enemies”

Erdoğan described the new era as a process of making friends, not enemies, and that ties should be improved with countries with whom “we share the same beliefs and thoughts”.

He said Turkey had a decisive role in regional relations with Egypt and Israel, and would gain nothing by cutting ties altogether.

“Turkey has a policy on Israel, and such a policy is also possible with Egypt,” Erdoğan said, adding that positive results show that action can also be taken at a higher level.

The head of Ankara’s diplomacy is due to visit Israel in May. Erdoğan said a similar policy could be adopted towards Egypt and the current low-level dialogue could be intensified.

“We already have relations at a lower level, such as between our intelligence services. Relations between our businessmen are also continuing. Positive results indicate that these measures can be taken at a higher level,” Erdoğan told About Egypt.

Erdoğan reiterated “the need for a new era in foreign policy” and said it was a process of making friends and not enemies with countries with whom “we share the same beliefs and thoughts”.

French elections

Erdoğan also hailed the defeat of far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in the French elections as a “victory”, saying the world was suffering because of extremism.

Le Pen, 53, failed to topple President Emmanuel Macron last weekend but achieved a historic score of 41.5%.

Erdoğan, who in the past has traded barbs with Macron, hailed the election result.

“To put it correctly, the elimination and defeat of the extremist extremes in the French elections is, in my opinion, a victory because everything we suffer is due to extremism,” he said.

Erdoğan said he had hoped Macron would win and praised the French president for carrying out a “very clever” electoral strategy, especially during the debate.

“God willing, with the outcome of this election, our relations will be in a much better position,” he added.

In recent years, Turkey has been embroiled in a series of disputes with France and its EU partners, from tensions in the eastern Mediterranean to the disputed region of Karabakh, formerly known as Nagorno-Karabakh. The row escalated in 2020 when France moved to crack down on Muslims after several attacks on its soil.

Macron won a second term by defeating far-right candidate Le Pen in the second round of voting held on April 24.

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