Saudi crown prince, Erdogan meet in Turkey with 'full normalisation' in sights

Saudi crown prince, Erdogan meet in Turkey with ‘full normalisation’ in sights

  • Ankara halted Khashoggi murder trial to strengthen ties
  • Official says talks slow on potential currency swap line
  • Erdogan faces difficult elections with strained economy

ANKARA, June 22 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Turkey for the first time in years on Wednesday for talks with President Tayyip Erdogan with the aim of fully normalizing ties that were severed after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The visit marks a step in the de facto Saudi leader’s efforts to rehabilitate his image beyond the Gulf, and comes as Erdogan seeks financial support that could help ease Turkey’s beleaguered economy ahead of tight presidential elections.

In April, Erdogan held personal talks with Prince Mohammed in Saudi Arabia after a months-long effort to mend relations between the regional powers, including dropping the Turkish trial for Khashoggi’s 2018 murder in Istanbul.

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Erdogan said last week that he and Prince Mohammed would discuss “to what much higher level” ties can be taken during talks in Ankara. read more

The visit is expected to bring “full normalization and a restoration of the pre-crisis period,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “A new era will begin.”

Erdogan welcomed Prince Mohammed to Ankara’s presidential palace with a ceremony and the two shook hands and hugged, before being greeted by members of the Turkish cabinet.

In a statement after the talks, the two countries stressed the determination to start a new period of cooperation in bilateral relations. read more

The Turkish official said the two countries had lifted restrictions on trade, flights and the screening of TV series, and negative media coverage of each other had also stopped.

However, he said negotiations on a possible currency swap line, which could help restore Turkey’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves, were not moving “as fast as desired” and will be discussed privately between Erdogan and the Prince. Mohammed.

The two countries also discussed enhancing cooperation in trade and sectors such as defense, energy and tourism, among others, according to the joint statement. He added that Ankara invited Saudi investment funds to invest in Turkish startups.

CRITICISM STOPPED

Prince Mohammed is on his first tour outside the Gulf region in more than three years, including a visit to Jordan. read more

Ties between Ankara and Riyadh worsened after a Saudi death squad killed and dismembered Khashoggi in 2018 at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. Erdogan at the time blamed the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

The visit, including the welcoming ceremony at the palace, marks a turning point in their relationship. Ankara stopped all criticism and halted his murder trial in April, transferring the case to Riyadh in a move condemned by rights groups.

Prince Mohammed has been taking advantage of Saudi Arabia’s vast wealth and oil-producing capacity to lure Western leaders and private business partners, hoping that changes in geopolitics and focus on social and economic reforms would soften criticism of its human rights record.

US President Joe Biden will visit Saudi Arabia in July as Washington grapples with record gasoline prices and builds a united front against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine.

The visit also comes at a time when Turkey’s economy is severely affected by the falling lira and inflation exceeding 70%. Saudi funds and foreign currency could help Erdogan bolster support ahead of the June 2023 election, analysts say.

The Turkish official said that Saudi Arabia may be interested in ventures within the Turkish Wealth Fund or elsewhere, or making similar investments to the UAE in recent months.

The leaders will also discuss the possible sale of Turkish armed drones to Riyadh, the person added.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on Tuesday that Erdogan would “embrace the man who ordered the assassination” of Khashoggi and accused him of exchanging “the honor of the country” for financial aid.

Prince Mohammed denies any involvement in the murder.

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Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Riyadh and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Edited by Jonathan Spicer, Angus MacSwan and Deepa Babington

Our standards: the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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