Monday, July 4, 2022

Saudi crown prince to visit Turkey in first since Khashoggi murder

The two countries will sign several agreements during his trip as Turkey looks to non-Western partners for financial support as soaring inflation bites.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will visit Turkey next week, a Turkish official said Friday, as Ankara and Riyadh heal a bitter rift following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

It is Prince Mohammed’s first visit to Turkey since the brutal killing of Saudi insider-turned-critic Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate, which shocked the world and dealt a heavy blow to ties between the regional rivals.

The kingdom’s de facto ruler is expected to visit the capital Ankara on June 22 but details of the trip will be announced “over the weekend”, a senior Turkish official told AFP.

The two countries will sign several agreements during his trip as Turkey looks to non-Western partners for financial support as soaring inflation bites.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had already paid his visit in late April to Saudi Arabia since the murder, where he met the prince before travelling to Mecca.

Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who wrote for the Washington Post, in October 2018. His remains have never been found.

Turkey angered Saudi Arabia by vigorously pursuing the case at the time, opening an investigation and briefing international media about the lurid details of the murder.

Erdogan previously said the “highest levels” of the Saudi government ordered the killing, although he has never blamed the crown prince directly.

But with ties on the mend, an Istanbul court halted the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects linked to Khashoggi’s death, transferring the case to Riyadh in April.

Repairing relations

Turkey already had strained relations with Saudi Arabia because of its support to Qatar during the 2017 Riyadh-led blockade on the Gulf state but relations were frozen for more than three years after Khashoggi’s killing.

Saudi Arabia responded at the time with an unofficial boycott of Turkish imports, putting pressure on Turkey’s economy.

Turkish exporters complained their goods were stuck at Saudi customs for longer than was necessary.

Now with inflation reaching 73.5% in May and a cost-of-living crisis a year before a presidential election, Erdogan needs backing from Gulf countries, experts say.

“Turkey’s main concern would be getting Saudi funding to resupply central bank coffers that are dangerously low,” Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told AFP.

The Turkish lira lost 44% of its value against the dollar in 2021, while the central bank has pumped billions of dollars to prop up the currency.

In the past 18 months, Turkey has also sought to repair relations with powerful countries in the region like Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

For the Saudi crown prince, the pariah status in the West after Khashoggi appears to be a thing of the past with US President Joe Biden heading to the Middle East next month and an expected stop in Saudi Arabia where the two men will meet.

French President Emmanuel Macron had already met Prince Mohammed in December during a visit to the kingdom.

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