GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 639, 26 June 2022

Saudi Arabia: Rapprochement with Turkey
Ashwin Dhanabalan

What happened?
On 22 June, Prince Mohammed visited Turkey and met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His meeting comes as a breakthrough as Turkey and Saudi Arabia's relations were disrupted after the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul.  
On the same day, Turkey and Saudi Arabia friendship committee chairman Halil Ozcan said: "We hope that serious concrete steps in the economic, military and defense areas will be taken in the near term …  and the visit of the crown prince will hopefully lead to broad agreements in these areas." 
On 21 June, Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his regional tour by visiting Cairo. He met with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and finalized deals worth USD 7.7 billion. The two leaders also discussed US president Joe Biden's visit in July.  
On the same day, Prince Mohammed met with Jordan's King Abdullah and reassured Riyadh's support for the country's economy. The Prince added: "There are large opportunities in Jordan that we are keen to actively participate in and such investments will bring benefits to both countries."  
What is the background?  
First, animosity in relations post 2018. Turkey and Saudi Arabia's relations severed after Khashoggi was killed in Istanbul by a hit squad from Riyadh. The case had resulted in a diplomatic and unofficial trade embargo between the two countries for about five years. However, Erdogan's visit to Riyadh on 29 April brought changes to their bilateral ties as Turkey also handed over Khashoggi's case to Saudi Arabia.  
Second, the common concern of Iran. Both the countries want to play a more proactive role in the region by moving away from regional divisions and economic isolation. Saudi Arabia has been pushing to mend ties with Turkey and other regional actors as it is concerned about Iran's nuclear development. In March, the recent Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities had also raised apprehensions about regional defense issues. 
Third, looking beyond Turkey. Riyadh has been working towards mending ties with regional powers such as Israel, Qatar, and Turkey. Biden is set to visit Jeddah in July for a joint GCC summit, which is why Prince Mohammed wants to put forward a more unified regional position on critical issues. He was also set to visit Iraq, but the political uncertainty in the country has deferred his plans for now.  
What does it mean? 
First, the need for Saudi Arabia's oil and investments. Saudi Arabia's revenue through oil profits is set to reach USD 400 billion. Thus, Erdogan also hopes that the mending of ties could encourage investments from Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries since Turkey has been facing an economic crisis.  
Second, Turkey's upcoming general elections. Improved relations and normalcy in trade would help Erdogan win the favor of the people to get re-elected in the 2023 elections. Erdogan, 68, in January announced to stand up for the elections and thus is doing everything in his power to win the elections.  
Third, collective defense against Iran. Prince Salman plans to create an air-defense umbrella to pressure Iran for its support of the Houthis. Thus, it is also planning to tighten ties with Israel as a part of its strategy. 
Fourth, sidelining Khashoggi's case. Khashoggi's killings had overshadowed the kingdom and the Prince's role in the region as the West and other regional actors like Turkey moved away in 2018. But now, Prince Salman's visits could be seen as entering the center stage of politics in the Middle East after Khashoggi's killing.