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Saudi Crown Prince visits Turkey in a major change of attitude for Erdogan

Written by Javed Iqbal

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

Mustafa Kaya / Xinhua via Getty Images

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

Relations between the two countries were virtually severed after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time accused the Saudi prince of orchestrating the assassination, something he and his government have vigorously done. denied.

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

The Crown Prince and Erdogan are now aiming to fully normalize their relationship. A joint statement issued after the leaders’ negotiations detailed a new period of bilateral ties, including the removal of trade restrictions, more planned negotiations and a possible currency swap.

This comes as Turkey is facing an economic crisis, with inflation at a record high of more than 70% and a sharply depreciated currency. That Turkish lira has lost more than half of its value in the past year.

‘End its regional isolation’

“We should read this approach as part of a broader normalization effort by Turkey with the countries of the region,” as it has been on poor terms, Pinar Dost, deputy director of the Atlantic Council in Turkey, told CNBC’s Dan Murphy on Thursday. In addition to Saudi Arabia, Erdogan has made efforts to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates and Israel, and negotiations with Egypt are reportedly progressing as well.

“First and foremost, Turkey wants to end its regional isolation; the country suffered greatly from being isolated,” in areas such as the eastern Mediterranean, said Dost, where a number of countries formed a platform for cooperation on gas extraction there and Turkey was excluded. .

“For Turkey, this approximation to 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 ease economic pressure on Turkey,” she added. In May, the kingdom resumed flights to Turkey after a two-year hiatus.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomes Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud to Ankara, Turkey, on 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 an attempt to repair ties to the kingdom after Biden in 2019 insisted on treating the Saudis as “the pariah they is “and strong criticism of the country’s human rights violations.

That visit, analysts say, will be aimed at both trying to convince the Saudis to pump more oil to alleviate painfully high global fuel prices, as well as trying to forge closer ties between the Saudis and Israel, nearly two years after the US broker. The Abrahamic Treaty, which ushered in a historic diplomatic normalization between Israel and the UAE.

Economic needs and power games

To some regional observers who see the development unfold, the change in attitude of Erdogan, an often combatant and loyal nationalist allied with Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Gulf states see as threats, is astounding.

“MBS is coming to Ankara and almost accepting Erdogan’s unconditional surrender,” wrote Timothy Ash, emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, in a note Thursday referring to the Saudi Crown Prince with his initials. “Completely remarkable.”

“It really shows what a tight economic situation Erdogan is in, and how desperate he is now for money, and also politically, how difficult it is now for Erdogan,” Ash added. “Remember here that he made such a thing out of the Khashoggi incident, and that here too he is really surrendering his leadership around the Muslim Brotherhood / political leadership issue.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request from CNBC for comment.

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

Photo by Mustafa Kaya / Xinhua via Getty Images

Turkey has moved to position itself as a key player in the Middle East and the Black Sea region by building on its existing advantages as the second largest military in NATO and fixing relations with influential countries that it had previously angered.

Turkish officials are currently holding talks with Russian colleagues in an attempt 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 currently opposed to Finland and Sweden joining the defense alliance, using its leverage to potentially make concessions, analysts say.

And a key outcome of its improved ties with Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UAE could be “a step further in consolidating the anti-Iranian camp in the region as Ankara moves closer to the Arab-Israeli axis emerging against Iran. . ” said Dost.

Multilateral negotiations on Iran’s 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 having the ability to build a bomb.

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Javed Iqbal

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