Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Ankara on Wednesday for his first official visit to Turkey, ushering in a new era in Turkish-Saudi relations poisoned by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in late 2018.
“God willing, we will see to what level we can improve relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, marking the arrival of “MBS”, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia. kingdom confirmed.
Act 1 of the reconciliation took place at the end of April: President Erdogan, who will run for re-election next year and must recover a Turkish economy in crisis, had traveled to Saudi Arabia to discuss with the Crown Prince how to “develop” relations between their two countries.
Three weeks earlier, Turkish justice had closed the trial of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in October 2018 on the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and dismembered when he came to seek documents needed for his marriage to conclude. to his Turkish fiancée.
By sending the cumbersome file to the Saudi authorities, Ankara had paved the way for rapprochement with Riyadh.
Act 2 will take place on Wednesday: MBS, which arrived in Ankara at the end of a regional tour that began in Egypt on Monday, will be received by Erdogan at the presidential palace from 4:30 pm (1:30 am GMT), according to the Turkish presidency.
No press conference is scheduled.
Several agreements will be signed during the visit, a senior Turkish official told AFP.
– “Like a beggar” –
“This is one of the most significant visits to Ankara in nearly a decade,” said Soner Cagaptay of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who recalls that the cold between Riyadh and Ankara dates back to 2013.
At the time, President Erdogan had supported deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, against Marshal al-Sissi, a hobbyhorse of Saudi Arabia.
The blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia on Qatar, an ally of Ankara, in 2017, and the Khashoggi affair the following year, had exacerbated the disagreement.
At the time, the Turkish president accused the “highest levels of the Saudi government” of ordering the assassination.
But less than a year after presidential elections scheduled for mid-June 2023, President Erdogan is stepping up initiatives to normalize relations with several regional powers — Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel and the United Arab Emirates — in search of investment and tourist flows.
After two decades at the head of the Turkish state, Mr Erdogan is facing the decline of the Turkish lira (-44% against the dollar in 2021 and -23% since January 1) and inflation (73. 5% on a year in May) destroying the Turks’ purchasing power, making his re-election uncertain.
“You sent the file back [Khashoggi] to Saudi Arabia for money, like a beggar,” the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, said angrily on Tuesday.
“If Jamal had a grave, he would turn in it,” said AFP Hatice Cengiz, Mr Khashoggi’s fiancée at the time of his murder.
– “Against the influence of Iran” –
For MBS, this visit means the end of exile on the part of Westerners; US President Joe Biden, who will travel to the Middle East for the first time since joining the White House in mid-July, has planned a stopover in Saudi Arabia where he will meet the Crown Prince.
“For Saudi Arabia, one of the key drivers is to create a Sunni front, which will include Turkey, to counter Iran’s influence in the region,” notes Gönül Tol of the Middle East Institute in Washington.
“The talks could also involve military and defense cooperation or the purchase of weapons, as the Saudis want to explore the possibility of diversifying their suppliers,” the firm Eurasia Group said in a research note.
But for King Salman’s son Gönül Tol “will not soon forget Turkey’s attitude during the Khashoggi affair”.
“At the time, MBS was trying to promote a reformist image in the country and on the international stage. But by exposing the Khashoggi affair, Turkey has seriously damaged this image.”