Saudi Arabia’s MBS heads to Turkey as countries normalise ties

The crown prince’s visit is a reminder that Saudi-Turkish relations have progressed rapidly in the last two years.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has travelled to Turkey for the first time in years for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, aiming to fully normalise ties that were ruptured after the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The Turkish president was due to welcome the crown prince at the presidential palace in Ankara for talks on Wednesday afternoon. No public statements are expected.

The visit comes as part of a tour that included stops in Egypt and Jordan earlier this week.

It is expected to bring “a full normalisation and a restoration of the pre-crisis period,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters. “A new era will begin.”

Ties between Ankara and Riyadh took a turn for the worse after a Saudi hit squad killed and dismembered Khashoggi in October 2018.

Erdogan at the time blamed it on the “highest levels” of the Saudi government. MBS has denied any involvement in the murder.

However, Ankara halted its murder trial in April, after a months-long drive to mend relations. The rapprochement was marked by Ankara’s approval of a request to transfer the trial to Riyadh.

Human rights groups condemned the move, saying Saudi Arabia could not be expected to hold a fair trial.

MBS has been leveraging Saudi Arabia’s vast wealth and oil production capacity to soften criticism of the country’s human rights record. In turn, Erdogan is seeking financial support that could help relieve Turkey’s beleaguered economy ahead of tight elections for the presidency, expected in 2023.

Turkish officials said agreements on energy, economy and security would be signed during the visit, while a plan was also in the works for Saudi funds to enter capital markets in Turkey.

However, negotiations on a possible currency swap line that could help restore Turkey’s diminished foreign reserves were not moving “as fast as desired” and would be discussed privately between the two leaders.

Turkey’s economy is badly strained by a slumping lira and inflation soaring beyond 70 percent. Saudi funds and foreign currency could help Erdogan shore up support ahead of elections, analysts say.

The leaders will also discuss the possible sale of Turkish armed drones to Riyadh, Turkish officials told Reuters.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi received MBS at the airport on Monday evening, on the first leg of a Middle East tour that comes ahead of United States President Joe Biden’s trip to the region next month.

The Saudi leader, who is a steady financial backer of the Egyptian government, discussed “regional and wider international political affairs”, according to el-Sisi’s spokesman Bassam Radi.

MBS then departed to Jordan for talks with its monarch, King Abdullah II, also a close ally of Saudi Arabia.

Business leaders and officials hoped the visit would unblock at least $3bn of investment projects that Saudi Arabia committed to in recent years, but that never materialised.

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