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Saudi Crown Prince Erdogan is meeting in Turkey with ‘full normalization’ in mind

Written by Javed Iqbal

  • Ankara stopped the Khashoggi murder case to warm the ties
  • Official says negotiations are slow on possible currency swap line
  • Erdogan faces tough choices with strained finances

ANKARA, June 22 (Reuters) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Turkey for the first time in years on Wednesday for talks with President Tayyip Erdogan to normalize ties broken after the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The visit marks a step in the efforts of the de facto Saudi leader to rehabilitate his image beyond the Gulf and comes as Erdogan seeks financial support that can help relieve Turkey’s besieged economy ahead of tight elections for the president.

In April, Erdogan held one-on-one talks with Prince Mohammed in Saudi Arabia after a month-long drive to rectify relations between the regional powers, including dropping the Turkish trial on Khashoggi’s assassination in Istanbul in 2018.

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Erdogan said last week that he and Prince Mohammed would discuss “to what much higher level” they can take ties during talks in Ankara. Read more

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

Erdogan welcomed Prince Mohammed to the Presidential Palace in Ankara with a ceremony, and the two shook hands and embraced before being greeted by members of the Turkish cabinet.

In a statement after the negotiations, the two countries emphasized their willingness to start a new period of cooperation in bilateral relations. Read more

The Turkish official said the two countries had lifted restrictions on trade, flights and viewing of TV series, with mutual negative media coverage also stopped.

He said, however, that negotiations on a possible currency swap line – which could help restore Turkey’s diminished foreign exchange reserves – were not moving “as quickly as desired” and would be discussed privately between Erdogan and Prince Mohammed.

The two countries also discussed improving cooperation in trade and sectors such as defense, energy and tourism, the joint statement said. It added that Ankara invited Saudi investment funds to invest in Turkish startups.

THE CRITICISM IS STANDING

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

Relations between Ankara and Riyadh took a turn for the worse after a Saudi attack group killed and dismembered Khashoggi in 2018 at the Kingdom Consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan at the time blamed “the highest levels” of the Saudi government.

The visit, including the welcome ceremony at the palace, marks a turning point in their relationship. Ankara halted all criticism and stopped its murder case in April, transferring the case to Riyadh in a move condemned by human rights groups.

Prince Mohammed has exploited Saudi Arabia’s enormous wealth and oil production capacity to lure Western leaders and private business partners into the hope that shifting geopolitics and a focus on social and economic reforms would ease criticism of his human rights status.

US President Joe Biden is due to visit Saudi Arabia in July as Washington struggles with record-high gasoline prices and builds a common front against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

The visit also comes as Turkey’s economy is under heavy pressure from a falling lira and inflation rising to over 70%. Saudi funds and foreign exchange could help Erdogan strengthen support ahead of the June 2023 election, analysts say.

The Turkish official said that Saudi Arabia may be interested in companies within the Turkish wealth fund or elsewhere, or in making investments similar to those made 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 party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on Tuesday that Erdogan “will embrace the man who ordered the killing” of Khashoggi and accused him of swapping “the country’s honor” for financial aid.

Prince Mohammed denies any involvement in the assassination.

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Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Riyadh and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Edited by Jonathan Spicer, Angus MacSwan and Deepa Babington

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Javed Iqbal

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