Turkey’s Erdogan visits Riyadh to repair fences

Turkish officials say President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Saudi Arabia as part of the latest leg of Turkey’s efforts to build bridges with regional rivals

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Saudi Arabia on Thursday, his office said, as part of the latest step in efforts to bring Ankara closer to regional rivals.

It will be Erdogan’s first visit to the kingdom since Turkey dropped the trial of 26 Saudis suspected of involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018.

Talks with Saudi officials during the two-day visit will focus on ways to increase cooperation, according to a statement from Erdogan’s office. The parties will exchange views on regional and international issues.

The decision earlier this month to transfer the prosecution to Saudi Arabia removed the final stumbling block to renewed Turkish-Saudi relations, particularly in Erdogan’s relationship with Saudi de facto Crown Prince Mohammed. Bin Salman.

Erdogan, without naming the prince, said the order to carry out the assassination came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.

A Saudi court has jailed eight people for the September 2020 murder – a trial described as a sham by rights groups – but Turkey has also launched a case in absentia against 26 Saudi suspects.

The transfer of the case to Saudi Arabia on April 7 came at the request of the Turkish prosecutor, who said there was no prospect of arrest or taking statements from the defendants.

Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, had appealed the decision to suspend the trial in Turkey and transfer the case to Saudi Arabia, but an administrative court rejected the appeal last week.

Over the past year, Ankara has embarked on a diplomatic campaign to reset relations with countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia after years of antagonism following the Arab Spring of 2011.

Turkey’s support for grassroots movements linked to the Muslim Brotherhood initially spurred a break with Arab regimes that viewed the Brotherhood’s vision of political Islam as a threat.

Subsequent developments, particularly the blockade of Turkey’s ally Qatar by its Gulf neighbors, deepened the split. The lifting of the embargo by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain early last year paved the way for reconciliation.

Erdogan last visited Saudi Arabia in July 2017 as he attempted to resolve the blockade imposed on Qatar the previous month.

In February, he was greeted with fanfare in the United Arab Emirates as Dubai’s Burj Khalifa was lit up with the Turkish flag and the Turkish national anthem sounded.

Turkey’s diplomatic momentum has coincided with its worst economic crisis in two decades, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and now the war in Ukraine. Official inflation stands at 61% while the lira has fallen, falling 44% in value against the dollar in 2021.

Turkey has struck a $4.9 billion currency swap deal with Abu Dhabi, following similar agreements with Qatar, China and South Korea. The UAE also announced a $10 billion fund to support investment in Turkey.

The end of an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish goods, which cut Ankara’s exports by 90%, saw trade with Saudi Arabia hit $58 million last month, triple the level of the United States. previous year, but a fraction of the $298 million recorded in March 2020.

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AP reporter Suzan Fraser contributed from Ankara, Turkey.

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