By Orhan Coskun
ANKARA/RIYADH -Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday in the first high-level visit in years which he hopes will herald a new era of relations after intense efforts to repair strained ties.
Erdogan met with King Salman in an official ceremony in the al-Salam palace in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, attended the ceremony before having a one-on-one meeting with Erdogan, Ankara’s communication office said on Twitter.
Erdogan’s visit, which his office said was at the invitation of the Saudi king, marks the culmination of a months-long drive to mend ties that included dropping a trial over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018.
Analysts and officials say Saudi funding could help Turkey alleviate its economic woes, including soaring inflation, ahead of tough elections for Erdogan next year.
Bilateral relations were badly strained after Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018. At the time, Erdogan accused the “highest levels” of the Saudi government of giving the orders, but Ankara has since markedly softened its tone.
In a policy reversal, Turkey this month halted and transferred its own trial of the Saudi suspects in the killing to Saudi Arabia in a move condemned by human rights groups.
Speaking to reporters before departing for Jeddah, Erdogan said Thursday’s visit was “the manifestation of our common will” to improve ties and strengthen political, military and cultural relations.
He added it would be mutually beneficial to boost cooperation in areas including health, energy, food security, defence industry, and finance.
“With common efforts, I believe we will carry our ties even beyond where they were in the past,” he said.
In conciliatory remarks that stand in sharp contrast to the war of words in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder, Erdogan cited the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as a fitting time for the visit, saying it was the month of “replenishing and strengthening brotherly ties.”
Ankara hopes the visit will fully end an unofficial Saudi boycott of Turkish imports, imposed in 2020 amid the Khashoggi standoff. The boycott cut Turkish imports to the kingdom by 98%.
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 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%.
Turkey wants Saudi Arabia to join an existing currency swap network currently worth $28 billion 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.
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 United Arab Emirates.
Diplomats and analysts say the overtures are 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-$20 billion would be something worthwhile.”