The Saudi crown prince visits Turkey in a major change in Erdogan’s position

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

Mustafa Kaya / Xinhua via Getty Images

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

Relations between the two countries were almost severed following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time accused the Saudi prince of orchestrating the murder, something he and his government heavily have. to reject.

Since 2020, an unofficial boycott of Turkish goods has been imposed in Saudi Arabia, and the kingdom has for a period banned travel and flights to Turkey.

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

It comes at a time when Turkey is facing an economic crisis, with inflation hitting a record high of over 70% and a sharp devaluation of the currency. The Turkish lira lost more than half its value last year.

Ending regional isolation

“We should read this rapprochement as part of Turkey’s broader normalization efforts with countries in the region,” which were on poor terms, Pinar Dost, deputy director of the Atlantic Council in Turkey, told CNBC on Thursday. In addition to Saudi Arabia, Erdogan has made efforts to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates and Israel, and talks with Egypt are also reported to be progressing.

“First of all, Turkey would like to end its regional isolation; the country has suffered greatly from isolation” in regions such as the eastern Mediterranean, where a number of countries formed a platform for cooperation in gas extraction there and Turkey was excluded, Dost said. .

“For Turkey, this rapprochement with all these countries also means trying to include them in the regional calculus,” she said, adding that economic interests are also at play for Ankara. She added that Saudi Arabia is an important market for Turkish goods and tourism, and that ending the unofficial Saudi ban on trade between the two countries “will help relieve economic pressure on Turkey.” In May, the kingdom resumed flights to Turkey after a two-year hiatus.

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

Mustafa Kaya / Xinhua via Getty Images

The visit also comes ahead of President Joe Biden’s visit to the Gulf next month, which will include a visit to Saudi Arabia in an effort to mend ties with the kingdom after Biden insisted in 2019 that the Saudis be treated as “pariahs as they are.” He openly criticizes human rights violations in the country.

Analysts say this visit will be aimed at trying to persuade the Saudis to pump more oil to ease the painful rise in global fuel prices, as well as an attempt to bolster the close ties between the Saudis and Israel, nearly two years after the United States mediated. The Ibrahim Agreements that heralded the historic diplomatic normalization between Israel and the Emirates.

Economic needs and power play

For some regional observers who follow the development of events, the change in attitude towards Erdogan, who is often a militant and staunch nationalist allied with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood whom the Gulf states view as threats, is astonishing.

“Mohammed bin Salman comes to Ankara and almost accepts Erdogan’s unconditional surrender,” Timothy Ash, emerging markets analyst at BlueBay Asset Management, wrote in a note Thursday, referring to the Saudi crown prince by his initials. “Absolutely wonderful.”

“This really shows Erdogan’s tight financial situation and how desperate he is now for liquidity, and also politically how difficult it is now for Erdogan,” Ash added. “Remember here that he did something like this in the Khashoggi incident and he’s also really here to give up his leadership on the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood/political leadership.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

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

Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua via Getty Images

Turkey is poised to position itself as a major player in the Middle East and Black Sea region, taking advantage of its current advantages as the second largest army in NATO and establishing relations with influential countries that had previously angered it.

Turkish officials are currently in talks with their Russian counterparts in an effort to find a solution to Moscow’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, which has deprived entire regions of much-needed grain imports. Analysts say Turkey is also the only NATO member currently opposed to Finland and Sweden joining the defense alliance, using its influence to win potential concessions.

The main result of its improved relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UAE could be “a step forward in consolidating the anti-Iranian camp in the region, as Ankara approaches the emerging Arab-Israeli axis against Iran”. Dost said.

Multilateral negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal have stalled for months as the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency warned, now that Iran is closer than ever to having the capability to build a bomb.

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