Amid Turkey’s Improved Ties With Other Gulf States, Erdogan To Visit Saudi Arabia
Ties between Riyadh and Ankara have deteriorated in recent years, with the countries on opposite sides of several regional conflicts and the challenge of the Khashoggi murder
The prospects for a Saudi-Turkey rapprochement are looking brighter with the announcement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he will travel to Saudi Arabia next month.
“They expect me in February. They made a promise, and I will pay a visit to Saudi Arabia in February,” Erdogan told an unnamed woman who asked about Turkish exporters’ issues with Saudi Arabia on the sidelines of a trade event in Istanbul on Monday.
Ties between Ankara and Riyadh have been rocky in recent years
The visit will be the Turkish leader’s first since the 2018 murder in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was a critic of Saudi Arabia’s leaders. Khashoggi’s murder strained the diplomatic, trade and tourism sectors between the two countries.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed last year that talks to improve relations with Saudi Arabia are still ongoing through various channels.
Cavusoglu was in Saudi Arabia in May for the first time since Khashoggi’s murder.
Erdogan’s trip comes amid soaring inflation in Turkey to the highest level since Erdogan came to power almost two decades ago, while the lira continues its out-of-control downward spiral.
A Saudi official at the Foreign Ministry in Riyadh told The Media Line that the monarchy is unhappy about the speed of the progress of restoring relations between Ankara and Abu Dhabi, hinting that Riyad is “resentful.”
“There’s a feeling that (UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed) bin Zayed is drawing his own regional plan. He’s getting closer to Iran, Turkey, Syria. All this is happening without consulting with the Saudis,” the official said.
The Turkey-Saudi relationship also has unique challenges like the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which poses obstacles for the normalization process
Ties between Ankara and other Gulf states have seen a major thaw in relations recently after years of tension and hostility.
Turkey has been seeking to mend fences with regional rivals including Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the past two years.
In November, bin Zayed, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, made his first visit to Ankara in years, signaling a thaw in an otherwise fraught relationship.
Meanwhile, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, met with Turkish officials during the same month, highlighting Ankara’s improved relations with the tiny Gulf state.
“Turkey’s normalization initiative with Gulf Cooperation Council countries shouldn’t be viewed in isolation but rather as a package deal due to close ties and similar interests among Gulf states,” Yusuf Erim, chief political analyst and editor-at-large for Turkish public broadcaster TRT World, told The Media Line.
Relations between Turkey and the UAE reached rock bottom a year ago when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara was considering severing diplomatic ties with Abu Dhabi after the UAE normalized relations with Israel under the US-brokered Abraham Accords.
Tension was fueled by the two countries’ involvement in regional conflicts, and support of opposite warring parties, including in Libya’s war; their quarrels also extended to the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf.
Ties between Riyadh and Ankara have deteriorated over the past few years, with the countries on opposite sides of several regional conflicts.
“The Turkey-Saudi relationship also has unique challenges like the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which poses obstacles for the normalization process,” Erim said.
Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told The Media Line that there are several reasons for the warming of ties, among them conflict fatigue.
This is the “general trend towards de-escalation in the Middle East that arises largely from the fact that regional actors found themselves overextended after a decade of confrontation, and direct and indirect conflict,” he said.
Ibish says that the rapprochement has more to do with money than geopolitics.
“Turkey’s need for economic support, especially for the lira, creates an opening by which, as the UAE was quick to understand, Gulf Arab countries could both make sound investments in Turkish assets and create financial, institutional and infrastructural constraints on Turkey’s incentives to pursue a possible aggressive or hegemonic policy in the Arab world,” he explained.
What this indicates is a shared desire to try to resolve issues diplomatically and politically and avoid further confrontation insofar as possible. But that doesn’t mean these countries are now in broad agreement. They aren’t, except on the idea that it’s better to have a dialogue than an endless confrontation that advantages neither side in the long run.
However, Ibish says, that doesn’t mean the disputed issues have been fully resolved.
“Of course not. There are still many existing and potential differences. What this indicates is a shared desire to try to resolve issues diplomatically and politically and avoid further confrontation insofar as possible. But that doesn’t mean these countries are now in broad agreement. They aren’t, except on the idea that it’s better to have a dialogue than an endless confrontation that advantages neither side in the long run,” he said.
Political tensions between the two countries are obstructing the movement of goods and putting a strain on trade relations between the two Sunni Muslim regional powers, causing Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia to plunge.
Mohammed al-Bishi, a Saudi journalist specializing in economic affairs, told The Media Line that tension between the two countries is due to Turkey’s “aggressive regional policies.”
In 2020, the head of the Saudi Chamber of Commerce called for a boycott of Turkish products.
Bishi estimates that Saudi Arabia exported roughly $3 billion worth of goods, mainly petroleum products, to Turkey in 2019, while importing products worth close to $12 billion.
“While talks between both regional players continue, they progress at a slower pace in relation to Turkey’s diplomacy with the UAE and Bahrain. Regardless, I do believe challenges will be overcome as the region’s new dynamics and converging bilateral interests are pulling both countries together,” said Erim.
Turkey’s overall exports rose 32.9% in 2021, while the trade deficit dropped to $45.9 billion, data showed on Monday