Visit To Saudi Arabia Heralds New Era In Bilateral Ties Erdogan Says

Visit To Saudi Arabia Heralds New Era In Bilateral Ties Erdogan Says

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have demonstrated a common will to develop bilateral relations at the highest level on the basis of 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 my visit will herald a new era in the ties between our two countries. We have demonstrated our common will to enhance ties on the basis of mutual respect and trust, most clearly and at the highest level,” he said.

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

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

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

He emphasized 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 the businesspeople and investors of the two countries, he added.

“We agreed with Saudi Arabia to reactivate a 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 deteriorated in recent years, but both countries are now seeking to revive ties.

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

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

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

Erdoğan then visited the holy Islamic city of Mecca to perform an Umrah pilgrimage. Prior to flying from Istanbul to Saudi’s second city Jiddah, where some roads were lined with Turkish and Saudi flags, Erdoğan said he hoped “to launch a new era” in bilateral ties as the visit came when the two regional powers seek to mend nearly a decade of broken ties.

Following the 2011 Arab Spring, ideological differences and rival foreign policy objectives directed Ankara and Riyadh in different directions, making them fierce regional rivals.

Turkey’s support for popular movements linked to the Muslim Brotherhood initially spurred the break with Arab regimes that saw the brotherhood’s political vision as a threat. During the process, Turkey and Saudi Arabia supported opposite sides in many regional conflicts.

Later developments, particularly the blockade of Turkish ally Qatar by its Gulf neighbors, reinforced 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 sided with its main regional ally Qatar amid the embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and two other Arab states. Turkey has since deepened its military ties with Qatar. The Arab quartet at the time demanded a series of reversals by 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.

The killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul sent an already tense and shaky relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia into complete free fall.

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

The gruesome act risked isolating Saudi Arabia, and especially MBS, while escalating Riyadh’s regional rivalry with Ankara.

Turkey infuriated the Saudis by pressing ahead with an investigation into the murder of The Washington Post contributing columnist. Erdoğan said the “highest levels” of the Saudi government ordered the killing.

Saudi Arabia responded by unofficially putting pressure on Turkey’s economy through a boycott of Turkish imports.

But trade between the two has been gradually improving, 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 to Saudi Arabia reach $58 million (TL 861.40 million) last month, triple the level for the previous year but a fraction of the $298 million registered in March 2020.

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

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

The decision earlier this month to transfer the prosecution to Saudi Arabia removed the last stumbling block to renewed Turkey-Saudi ties.

Over the past year, Ankara has embarked on a diplomatic push to reset relations with regional powers such as Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia after years of antagonism. Erdoğan had reiterated that Turkey hopes to maximize its cooperation with Israel, Egypt and Gulf nations “on a win-win basis,” at a time when Ankara intensified diplomacy to mend its fraught ties with these regional powers after years of tensions.

‘Friends, not enemies’

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

He said Turkey has a decisive role in regional relations with Egypt and Israel, and it will gain nothing by completely cutting ties.

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

Ankara’s top diplomat is due to visit Israel in May. Erdoğan said a similar policy may be adopted toward Egypt and the current low-level dialogue can be escalated.

“We already have relations at a low level, such as between our intelligence services. Relations between our businesspeople continue, too. Positive results indicate that these steps can be taken at a higher level,” Erdoğan said of Egypt.

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

French elections

Erdoğan also welcomed far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s defeat in the French election as a “win,” saying that the world suffered because of extremism.

Le Pen, 53, failed to unseat 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 extremist ends in French elections are, in my opinion, a win because whatever we suffer is because of extremism,” he said.

Erdoğan said he had hoped Macron would win and praised the French president for leading a “very smart” election strategy, especially during the debate.

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

Over the last few years, Turkey has been embroiled in a series of disputes with France and its EU partners, from tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean to the contested Karabakh region, previously 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, defeating far-right candidate Le Pen in the second round of the vote held on April 24.

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