ISTANBUL, TURKEY – Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia appear to be thawing after years of regional rivalry, and leaders of both countries have pledged to improve bilateral ties. Analysts suggest that the factors leading to improved ties could be economic issues, as well as the incoming presidency of Joe Biden.
“President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and King Salman [bin Abdulaziz] they agreed to keep the channels of dialogue open to improve bilateral relations and overcome problems, “said a statement from the Turkish presidency after the two leaders spoke by phone in early November.
The two leaders’ conversation was followed by similar warm remarks from the Turkish and Saudi Arabian foreign ministers who met in Niger on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
“A strong partnership between Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be beneficial not only for our countries, but for the entire region,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted.
Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman have been bitter rivals in the past, frequently exchanging outright angry statements as they pursue regional dominance.
“Saudi Arabia, and MBS [Mohammed Bin Salman] in particular, he tries to be the leader of the Arab world, “said international relations professor Huseyin Bagci of the Middle East Technical University in Ankara.
“Saudi Arabia is a close ally of the United States, and Donald Trump left them unconditionally free. Turkey was also trying to be the leader of the Arabs and the Islamic world, which Saudi Arabia opposed,” Bagci said.
Observers blame this bilateral rivalry for exacerbating conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. But Biden’s apparent electoral victory over Trump is forcing the Turks and Saudis to reevaluate.
“One of the impulses [del acercamiento entre Arabia Saudita y Turquía] It is the arrival of Joe Biden, “said former Turkish ambassador to Qatar, Mithat Rende, now a regional energy analyst.” The Saudis should be prepared for a different treatment by the Biden administration, so they, and also the Turks, arrived to understand that this worsening of relations, this crisis in bilateral relations is not sustainable. “
Analysts also cite economic factors driving Turkey’s rapprochement with Riyadh. “Turkey has dire economic conditions right now, and Saudi Arabia has always been a breath of life for Turkey,” Bagci said.
“In the past, they invested and brought money into the country, so Turkey will probably also try to renew relations and make some concessions,” he added.
Riyadh is reported to have imposed an unofficial trade embargo on Turkish goods. Turkey’s Assembly of Exporters said exports to Saudi Arabia fell 16% through October this year to $ 2.23 trillion.
But Ankara seems optimistic about a breakthrough.
“We look forward to concrete steps to resolve the problems in our trade and economic relations,” Turkey’s Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan was quoted as saying by the newspaper. Sabah. “Our partners told us that there was no formal decision on some exceptional issues.”
In a possible gesture to Riyadh, analysts suggest that Ankara is tempering its rhetoric on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi’s assassination inside the Istanbul consulate of Saudi Arabia in 2018 saw Erdogan take a leading role in the international condemnation of Riyadh for the murder, which was widely attributed to prominent members of the Saudi regime.
An Istanbul court is trying Saudi officials in absentia for Khashoggi’s murder.
Ankara had drawn publicity to the case, until now.
Last week’s hearing generated no comment from Erdogan or any of his party’s top officials, and the case was postponed until March.
“Turkey has stopped making this an international problem,” observed Emre Caliskan of Britain’s Oxford University. “It seems that Erdogan has toned down on the Khashoggi case; this would also be an indication that Erdogan wants to have a better relationship with Riyadh.”
Saudi court renders verdicts in Khashoggi’s murder
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in late 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
However, Ankara’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood remains a major obstacle to any restoration of Turkish-Saudi ties.
“Turkey has supported the Arab Spring and the Saudis were not happy about it. The support of the Ikhwan movement [Hermandad Musulmana]In particular, it was viewed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Gulf kingdoms as a threat to their rulers and systems, “Rende said.
Riyadh views the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, a designation Ankara strongly rejects.
“I do not think that Erdogan will break his position on the Muslim Brotherhood at least in the near future because this support has a direct impact on Turkey’s policy in Libya, Syria and Qatar“Caliskan said.
History and pragmatism will be central to any approach, predicts Caliskan.
“We must not forget that these two countries had a very good relationship before the Arab Spring. Turkey and Saudi Arabia must learn to work together with their different agendas and baggage. But when it comes to pragmatism, Erdogan is the champion of pragmatism; me I am confident that Erdogan would establish a dialogue with the Saudi leadership and vice versa, “concluded Caliskan.