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.
“If God wills, we will see to what level we can raise relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday, confirming the arrival of the de facto leader of the Saudi empire.
Arriving in Ankara at the end of a regional tour that started on Monday in Egypt, Mohammed ben Salmane, known as “MBS”, is making his comeback on the international stage.
The Crown Prince had been largely isolated after the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, killed and dismembered at the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had come to seek documents necessary for his marriage to his Turkish fiancée.
The affair appears to be buried: MBS was personally received on Wednesday by Mr. Erdogan in the presidential palace with a horse parade and guard of honor, all broadcast live on Turkish television.
The two leaders made no statement and no press conference is planned, according to the Turkish presidency.
Several agreements must be signed during the visit, a senior Turkish official told AFP.
– “Like a beggar” –
Act 1 of the Reconciliation took place at the end of April: President Erdogan, who will play for his re-election next year and must repair a Turkish economy in crisis, went to Saudi Arabia to discuss with “MBS” the means to “develop “the relationship between their two countries.
Three weeks earlier, the Turkish authorities had decided to close the trial of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and to return the cumbersome case to the Saudi authorities, paving the way for a rapprochement with Ryad.
“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 conflict 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 2017 blockade of Saudi Arabia on Qatar, an ally of Ankara, and then the Khashoggi case the following year, had sealed the disagreement.
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 helm 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% in 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 on Wednesday.
– “Fight Iran’s influence” –
MBS will receive US President Joe Biden in Saudi Arabia in mid-July, a visit that should confirm his international rehabilitation.
“For Saudi Arabia is one of the primary motivations [de la visite de MBS à Ankara] is to create a Sunni front, which will include Turkey, to counter Iran’s influence in the region, ”said 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 this image.”