Saudi crown prince, Erdogan meet in Turkey with 'full normalisation' in sights

Published June 22, 2022
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (L) shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on April 28. — AFP
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (L) shakes hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on April 28. — AFP

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits Turkey for the first time in years on Wednesday for talks with President Tayyip Erdogan aimed at fully normalising ties that were ruptured after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In April, Erdogan went to Saudi Arabia after a months-long drive to mend relations between the regional powers, including dropping the trial over Khashoggi's 2018 murder in Istanbul.

Read: Economic woes force Erdogan to befriend Saudis

He held one-on-one talks with Prince Mohammed while there, raising the possibility of Saudi investments that could help relieve Turkey's beleaguered economy.

Erdogan said last week he and Prince Mohammed, Riyadh's de facto leader, would discuss “to what much higher level” they can take ties during talks in Ankara.

The visit is expected to bring “a full normalisation and a restoration of the pre-crisis period,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “A new era will begin.”

The official said negotiations on a possible currency swap line — which could help restore Turkey's diminished foreign reserves — were not moving “as fast as desired” and will be discussed privately between Erdogan and Prince Mohammed.

Agreements on energy, economy and security would be signed during Prince Mohammed's visit, while a plan was also in the works for Saudi funds to enter capital markets in Turkey, the person added.

Prince Mohammed is on his first tour outside the Gulf region in over three years including a visit to Jordan.

“I think this is probably one of the most significant visits to Ankara by a foreign leader in almost a decade,” said the Washington Institute's Turkey specialist Soner Cagaptay.

“Erdogan is all about Erdogan. He's all about winning elections and I think he has decided to kind of swallow his pride.”

Cagaptay said Prince Mohammed is also trying to see whether he can win broader backing ahead of a possible new nuclear agreement between world powers and the Saudis' arch-nemesis Iran.

“I think the Saudis are hedging their bets,” Cagaptay said.

Ties between Ankara and Riyadh cratered 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.

Ankara has since stopped all criticism and halted its murder trial in April, transferring the case to Riyadh in a move condemned by human rights groups and criticised by opposition parties for trading honour for monetary support.

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

The Turkish official said Saudi Arabia may be interested in companies within the Turkish Wealth Fund or elsewhere, or in making investments similar to those by the United Arab Emirates in recent months.

The leaders will also discuss the possible sale of Turkish armed drones to Riyadh, the person added.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said on Tuesday that Erdogan “will embrace the man who ordered the killing” of Khashoggi.

Prince Mohammed denies any involvement in the murder.

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