Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Ankara on Wednesday for his first official visit to Turkey, heralding a new era in Turkish-Saudi relations, poisoned by the late 2018 assassination attempt in Istanbul on journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“God willing, we will see to what level we can raise the relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, confirming the arrival of “MBS”, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia kingdom.
Act 1 of the Reconciliation took place at the end of April: President Erdogan, who is to play for his re-election next year and must repair a Turkish economy in crisis, had traveled to Saudi Arabia to discuss with the Crown Prince about means to “develop “relations between their two countries.
Three weeks earlier, Turkish justice had decided to close the trial of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist from the Washington Post killed and parted in October 2018 at the Saudi consulate’s premises in Istanbul, when he came to search for documents necessary for his marriage. to his Turkish fiancée.
By sending the cumbersome case to the Saudi authorities, Ankara had paved the way for a rapprochement with Riyadh.
Act 2 takes place on Wednesday: MBS, who arrived in Ankara at the end of a regional tour that began in Egypt on Monday, is due to be received by Mr. Erdogan in the Presidential Palace from 16.30 (13.30 GMT). to the Turkish Presidency.
No press conference is scheduled.
Several agreements must be signed during the visit, a senior Turkish official told AFP.
– “Like a beggar” –
“This is one of the most important visits to Ankara in nearly a decade,” said Soner Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recalling that the cold between Riyadh and Ankara dates back to 2013.
At the time, President Erdogan had backed against Marshal al-Sissi the ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, a pet in Saudi Arabia.
The blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia on Qatar, an ally of Ankara in 2017, and then the Khashoggi case 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 from the presidential election scheduled for mid-June 2023, President Erdogan is stepping up initiatives to normalize relations with several regional powers – Saudi Arabia, but also Israel and the United Arab Emirates – in pursuit of investment and tourist flows.
After two decades at the head of the Turkish state, Mr Erdogan is facing the fall of the Turkish lira (-44% against the dollar in 2021 and -23% since January 1) and inflation (73.5% against a year in May). ) which ravages the purchasing power of the Turks and makes his re-election uncertain.
“You have returned the file [Khashoggi] to Saudi Arabia for money like a beggar, “shook the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, on Tuesday.
“If Jamal had a grave, he would turn in it,” Hatice Cengiz, Mr Khashoggi’s fiancé, told AFP at the time of his assassination.
– “Fight Iran’s influence” –
For MBS, this visit marks the end of the exile of Westerners; US President Joe Biden, who is traveling to the Middle East in mid-July for the first time since joining the White House, has planned a stopover in Saudi Arabia, where he will meet the Crown Prince.
“For Saudi Arabia, one of the primary motivations 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 negotiations may also involve military and defense cooperation or the purchase of weapons, as the Saudis want to explore the possibility of diversifying their suppliers,” the company Eurasia Group suggests in a research note.
But for Gönül Tol, the son of King Salman “will not easily forget Turkey’s position 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 that image.”