Turkey’s Erdogan visits Saudi Arabia after U-turn on Khashoggi killing

Turkey’s Erdogan visits Saudi Arabia after U-turn on Khashoggi killing
Bilateral relations were strained after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Istanbul in 2018

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is visting Saudi Arabia after a months-long drive to repair ties with Riyadh that included dropping a trial over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

Mr Erdogan’s office said he would discuss ways to increase economic and other cooperation with the Gulf kingdom during his two-day visit that came at the invitation of Saudi King Salman.

Analysts and officials say Saudi funding could help Turkey alleviate its economic woes, including soaring inflation, ahead of tough elections for Mr Erdogan next year.

Bilateral relations were badly strained after Mr Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

At the time, Turkey’s president accused the “highest levels” of the Saudi government of giving the orders, but Ankara has since sharply softened its tone.

In a dramatic policy reversal, Turkey this month halted and transferred its own trial of the Saudi suspects in the killing to Saudi Arabia in a decision condemned by human rights groups.

Mr Erdogan is also expected to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

Ankara hopes the visit will fully end an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish imports, imposed in 2020 amid a war of words over the Khashoggi case. The boycott slashed Turkish imports to the kingdom by 98 per cent.

A senior Turkish official said there was a “very positive” atmosphere ahead of the trip, adding: “The groundwork is ready so that we can act in unison on trade, investments and regional issues once again.”

The visit comes as Muslims mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and as Turkey grapples with the economic fallout from the war between its Black Sea neighbours Ukraine and Russia.

Turkey’s economy has been ailing for years and a lira crisis erupted in late 2021 due to an unorthodox monetary policy backed by Erdogan that sent inflation soaring above 60 per cent.

Turkey wants Saudi Arabia to join an existing currency swap network currently worth $28bn that already involves China, South Korea, Qatar and the UAE. It also eyes investments and contracts similar to those inked with Abu Dhabi, officials say.

Mr Erdogan’s trip is part of a wider charm offensive to mend Turkey’s strained ties across the region, including with Egypt, Israel and the UAE

Diplomats and analysts say the diplomatic flurry is needed to help relieve economic and political pressures after Turkey’s policies in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in recent years left it increasingly isolated.

“Erdogan is pragmatic and a political animal, and his polls may not hold up for a year unless he can boost jobs,” said a western diplomat.

“So he is partly seeking deals and funding in Saudi, and a swap line for perhaps $10-$20bn would be something worthwhile.”