Saudi visit signals new chapter in Ankara-Riyadh ties, Erdoğan says

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday said he hopes his visit to Saudi Arabia will mark the beginning of a new era in ties with the kingdom as the two countries prepare to hold their first high-level visit in years following half a decade of strained relations. 

Speaking in Istanbul before flying to the Saudi coastal city Jeddah, Erdoğan affirmed mutual benefits for the two countries as a result of boosting cooperation in the sectors of health, energy, food security, military industries and financing, Hürriyet newspaper reported.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s economies “complement each other” and the visit shows “joint will to start a new period of cooperation,” the Turkish president said.

Erdoğan, who is facing elections next year and struggling to deal with economic woes in the country, is travelling to the Saudi kingdom as part of a dramatic shift in his government’s regional policy, which has included mending ties with Israel, which it had accused of terrorism, and the United Arab Emirates.

Earlier this month, a Turkish court dropped a trial in absentia of Saudi officials accused of the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi after consulting with the Justice Ministry. It said the legal proceedings would be transferred to Saudi Arabia, where a trial has already taken place, prompting human rights groups to cry foul on Turkey’s justice system.

Erdoğan will meet with Saudi Arabia’s de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman during the visit, Bloomberg reported on Thursday citing senior officials with direct knowledge of Erdoğan’s schedule.

Erdoğan had said in December 2018 that “those closest to the crown prince played the most active role” in Khashoggi’s killing by a Saudi hit squad.

Saudi Arabia has imposed an unofficial boycott on Turkish imports over its approach to the Khashoggi murder and after it established a military base in Qatar, the main regional rival of the Saudis.

Salman and Erdoğan have also clashed over the Muslim Brotherhood, which Turkey has supported across the Middle East but which Salman has sought to crack down on and described as an “incubator for terrorists”.

Now Erdoğan is looking to Saudi capital to help his country’s economy overcome a painful currency crisis that has sent annual inflation soaring to over 60 percent and pummelled living standards ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections. The twin vote must be held by June next year.

Among Erdoğan’s requests from the Saudi leadership is likely to be capital to help his central bank defend the lira, which lost 44 percent of its value against the dollar last year. In January, Erdoğan struck a $5 billion currency swap agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

The lira has remained almost unchanged against the dollar since the end of March, with economists pointing to currency interventions by state-run banks and the central bank, now armed with the UAE money, as the cause.

Erdoğan’s office said he was visiting Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Relations would be reviewed in all aspects and opportunities to develop cooperation discussed, his office said on Thursday in the first official announcement concerning the visit. It made no mention of any meeting with the crown prince.

(This article re-leads with Eroğan’s remarks on visit)

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