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Saudi Crown Prince visits Turkey in major posturing shift for Erdogan


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan R greets Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in Ankara, Turkey, June 22, 2022.

Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua via Getty Images

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has visited Turkey for the first time in years, marking a rapprochement between two of the region’s most important political, military and economic players after a period of relations strained.

Ties between the two countries were all but severed following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan then accused the Saudi prince of orchestrating the murder, which he and his government firmly refused.

Since 2020, an informal boycott of Turkish products in Saudi Arabia has been in place, and the kingdom has banned travel and flights to Turkey for a time.

The crown prince and Erdogan are now aiming to completely normalize their relationship. A joint statement issued following the leaders’ talks detailed a new period of bilateral relations, including the removal of trade restrictions, more scheduled talks and a possible currency swap.

It comes as Turkey faces an economic crisis, with inflation at a record high of over 70% and a heavily depreciated currency. The Turkish Lira has lost more than half of its value over the past year.

“End its regional isolation”

“We should read this rapprochement as part of a broader effort to normalize Turkey with countries in the region,” which is on bad terms, Pinar Dost, deputy director of the Atlantic Council in Turkey, said on Thursday. , to CNBC’s Dan Murphy. In addition to Saudi Arabia, Erdogan has made efforts to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates and Israel, and talks with Egypt would also progress.

“First of all, Turkey would like to end its regional isolation; the country has suffered a lot from its isolation,” in areas like the eastern Mediterranean, Dost said, where a number of countries have formed a platform to cooperate on gas extraction there and Turkey was excluded. .

“For Turkey, this rapprochement with all these countries also means an attempt to be included in the regional calculation,” she said, adding that economic interests are also at stake for Ankara. Saudi Arabia is an important market for Turkish goods and tourism, and the end of Saudi Arabia’s informal ban on trade between the countries “will help relieve the economic pressure on Turkey”, he said. she adds. In May, the kingdom resumed flights to Turkey after a two-year break.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in Ankara, Turkey, June 22, 2022.

Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua via Getty Images

The visit also comes ahead of President Joe Biden’s trip to the Gulf next month, which will include a visit to Saudi Arabia in a bid to restore ties with the kingdom after Biden insisted in 2019 on treating Saudis as “the pariah that ‘they are”. and strongly criticizing human rights violations in the country.

The visit, analysts say, will be aimed both at trying to convince the Saudis to pump more oil to alleviate painfully high global fuel prices, as well as trying to foster closer Saudi-Israeli ties, near two years after the negotiation by the United States. Abraham Accords that ushered in historic diplomatic normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Economic needs and power play

For some regional observers watching developments, the change in posture of Erdogan, an often combative nationalist and staunch ally of Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood whom the Gulf states view as threats, is staggering.

“MBS comes to Ankara and almost accepts Erdogan’s unconditional surrender,” Timothy Ash, emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, wrote in a note on Thursday, referring to the Saudi crown prince by his initials. “Quite remarkable.”

“It really shows where Erdogan is financially and how desperately he is looking for money, and also politically how difficult it is for Erdogan,” Ash added. “Remember here that he did such a thing of the Khashoggi incident and he’s also really here giving up his leadership around the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood/political leadership.”

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan R greets Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud in Ankara, Turkey, June 22, 2022.

Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua via Getty Images

Turkey has been striving to position itself as a key power player in the Middle East and Black Sea region, building on its existing advantages as NATO’s second army and securing its relations with influential countries she had previously angered.

Turkish officials are currently in talks with their Russian counterparts to try to find a solution to Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, which has deprived entire regions of desperately needed grain imports. Turkey is also the only NATO member that currently opposes Finland and Sweden joining the defense alliance, using its influence to potentially win concessions, analysts say.

And one of the main results of its improved relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates could be “a further step in consolidating the anti-Iranian camp in the region, as Ankara closer to the emerging Arab-Israeli axis against Iran”. said Dost.

Multilateral negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal have stalled for months, with the UN’s nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency now warning that Iran is closer than ever to have the ability to build a bomb.

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