ANKARA | 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 late 2018 assassination in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“God willing, 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 leader's arrival de facto of the Saudi kingdom.
Arrived in Ankara at the end of a regional tour which began on Monday in Egypt, Mohammed bin Salman, known as “MBS”, is making his comeback on the international scene.
Mohammed bin Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The crown prince had been largely isolated after the October 2018 assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered at the premises of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where he had come to collect documents necessary for his marriage to his Turkish fiancée.
< p>At the time, the Turkish president accused the “highest levels of the Saudi government” of ordering the assassination.
The affair seems buried: MBS was personally welcomed on Wednesday by Mr. Erdogan at the presidential palace, with an equestrian parade and a guard of honor, all broadcast live on Turkish television.
The two leaders made no statement, and no press conference is scheduled, according to the Turkish presidency.
Several agreements are to 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 of “developing” relations between their two countries.
Three weeks earlier, the Turkish authorities had decided to close the trial of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and to return the cumbersome file to the Saudi authorities , paving the way for rapprochement with Ryad.
“This is one of the most important visits to Ankara for almost a decade,” said Soner Cagaptay, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who recalls that the quarrel between Riyadh and Ankara dates back to 2013.
At the time, President Erdogan had supported against Marshal al-Sissi the deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia's pet peeve.
The blockade imposed in 2017 by Saudi Arabia in Qatar, an ally of Ankara, then the Khashoggi affair the following year, had sealed the discord.
But less than a year before 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 search of investments and tourist flows.
After two decades at the head of the Turkish state, Mr. Erdogan is confronted with the plummeting of the Turkish lira (-44% against the dollar in 2021 and -23% since January 1) and inflation (73.5 % over a year in May) which is ravaging the purchasing power of the Turks, making his re-election uncertain.
“You sent the [Khashoggi] file back to Saudi Arabia for money, such as a beggar,” the leader of the main Turkish opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, fumed on Tuesday.
“If Jamal had a grave, he would turn around in it,” Hatice reacted to AFP on Wednesday Cengiz, Mr. Khashoggi's fiancée at the time of his assassination.
'Countering Iran's Influence'
MBS will receive American President Joe Biden in Saudi Arabia in mid-July, a visit which should confirm his international rehabilitation.
“For Saudi Arabia, one of the primary motivations [of MBS's visit to Ankara] 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 arms, because the Saudis want to explore the possibility of diversifying their suppliers,” suggests the firm Eurasia Group in a research note.
But for Gönül Tol, the son of King Salman “will not easily forget Turkey's attitude during the Khashoggi affair”.
“During this period, MBS sought to promote a reformist image in the country and on the international scene. However, by revealing the Khashoggi affair, Turkey has greatly damaged this image”.