Saudi Arabia's crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), travelled to Ankara on Wednesday to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a meeting with which both aim to turn the page and begin a "new era" in their bilateral relations, closing the chapter of the crisis initiated by the murder of Yamal Khashogyi.
MBS was received by the Turkish leader at the presidential complex in Ankara, where, after an official ceremony, where both inspected the guard of honour, the two leaders went on to meet in petit comité.
Speaking to Reuters news agency, a Turkish official said that the aim of the visit was to achieve "complete normalisation" and "a return to the pre-crisis period". Earlier, Erdoğan said the meeting would allow the two countries to determine how far they could take the relationship.
In a joint communiqué issued after the meeting, Riyadh and Ankara pledged to deepen their relations in a range of areas, in line with the two countries' "historical brotherhood". The text mentioned everything from a desire to expand economic or environmental relations to increased coordination and consultation on regional policy issues, as well as a Turkish invitation for Saudi investment in the country. At the same time, MBS and Erdoğan also discussed the possible sale of Bayraktar drones to the Kingdom, a move that has been rumoured for several weeks.
This meeting comes a few weeks after Erdoğan made a two-day working visit to the Arab country in April, meeting with MBS and his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz. In recent months, Erdoğan has sought to improve relations with several of his main regional rivals, such as the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Egypt, and the Wahhabi kingdom has been one of the AKP leader's main sources of attention.
Suudi Arabistan Veliaht Prensi Muhammed bin Selman bin Abdülaziz El Suud’u Resmî Karşılama Töreni https://t.co/Yw5fvRP878— T.C. Cumhurbaşkanlığı (@tcbestepe) June 22, 2022
"We have left behind the worst days of our bilateral relationship," said Halil Özcan, chairman of the Turkish parliament's Turkish-Saudi Friendship Committee. "We expect serious and concrete steps to be taken in the economic, military and defence spheres as compensation for these years," continued the AKP MP, for whom a Turkish-Saudi partnership "will strongly contribute to regional stability".
The relationship between Riyadh and Ankara soured sharply in 2018 in the aftermath of the murder of Saudi journalist Yamal Khashogyi at the Kingdom's Consulate in Istanbul. Erdoğan accused the "highest echelons" of the Wahhabi country of being behind the crime, sparking a bilateral crisis between two countries that had already been dragging a growing competition for leadership of the Sunni world and the region.
But in recent months, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have smoothed out the differences, with several bilateral moves aimed at defusing the relationship. The Turkish government has finally put aside the Khashogyi assassination, first by halting the trial and then by transferring it to Saudi Arabia, closing the chapter of a process in which Ankara went so far as to indirectly point the finger at MBS himself. This move, strongly criticised by human rights organisations and the opposition, is also coupled with a reduction in criticism of the Kingdom by the Turkish state media.
Meanwhile, in recent months, Riyadh, which has also downplayed criticism of the Turkish government in its media, has lifted a ban on its citizens visiting Turkey, potentially boosting the country's tourism revenues. In addition, the Arab monarchy has also ended an undeclared embargo against Ankara, leading to a rapid increase in bilateral trade.
This rapprochement comes at a time when Turkey is experiencing a poor economic context. The Eurasian country suffers from massive inflation of over 70%, while the lira continues its own particular descent into hell, rapidly depreciating in the face of an unorthodox monetary policy strongly led by Erdoğan himself.
Now, a year away from a Turkish presidential election that looks set to be fiercely contested, Riyadh may provide an economic lifeline for Erdoğan, providing him with the financial support he needs in the run-up to the elections.
With this visit, MBS concludes his first international tour outside the Gulf in more than three years, having previously met with Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and King Abdullah II in Amman. In addition, in July, the Crown Prince will host Joe Biden for the first time in a meeting in the city of Jeddah that will be attended by other Gulf leaders, where the two are expected to reach important agreements after almost two years of tensions following the arrival of the Democratic leader in the White House.