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Relief in Ankara at signs of improved relations with Riyadh

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Berlin, Germany on 21 February 2020 [Abdulhamid Hoşbaş/Anadolu Agency]
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Berlin, Germany on 21 February 2020 [Abdulhamid Hoşbaş/Anadolu Agency]

Turkish-Saudi relations have witnessed signs of improvement in recent days, in light of other developments and new international and regional equations imposed by the victory of the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, in the US presidential elections. These indicators led to relief in Ankara, because it would give it the opportunity to devote itself to arranging this stage's priorities away from secondary conflicts and fabricated crises that the country and the region are in no need of.

The recent meeting, which brought together the Turkish and Saudi foreign ministers, had a positive atmosphere. Prince Faisal Bin Farhan confirmed in an interview with Reuters that the kingdom "has good and amicable relations" with Turkey. Turkish sources indicate that Riyadh has lifted the restrictions it imposed on Turkish products, and there is also news of Saudi Arabia stopping its support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), whose Turkey says is supported by the outlawed PKK. If this news is true, it is a good step towards restoring confidence between the two countries.

This is how relations between countries are, and if the intentions are sincere and the state's interests have been given priority over the adventures and personal whims, then there is always a way to overcome the crisis. This happened after the downing of the Russian fighter jet, as the Turkish and Russian presidents succeeded in establishing special relations, despite the deep disagreement between Ankara and Moscow in some files, most notably the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Consequently, Ankara and Riyadh can cooperate in files according to the interests of the two countries, while their views can remain different in various other files.

Turkey did not want its relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to deteriorate. Rather, it preferred the continuation of normal relations by neutralising the contentious files that cannot be resolved at the present time. Therefore, it adopted a policy of silence, patience and not responding in kind, despite the large amount of incitement against "everything Turkish". It did so based on the belief that no crisis lasts forever and in the hopes that this crisis will soon end; it seems that that day has come.

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To what level could the process of restoring Turkish-Saudi relations reach? Can it return to its previous state? Will this improvement hold, or will relations soon decline again? It is too early to speculate on such matters, but any slight improvement in relations between Ankara and Riyadh at the present time is better than its deterioration.

A while ago, the kingdom began to crackdown on Saudi companies that deal with Turkish companies. It also launched a drive to boycott Turkish products in the form of a popular campaign. However, that campaign has almost disappeared in recent days, and the so-called "electronic flies" have retreated from the fierce attack they had waged against Turkey on social media. Of course, there were orders issued to them to refrain from attacking Turkey.

Saudi Arabia has an international and regional status that cannot be ignored. This has always been in Ankara mind as it deals with the kingdom, but Saudi Arabia itself was not acting in a manner befitting its weight and position, whether in its relations with Turkey or in the Gulf crisis.

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Demolishing is easier than building, and wounds cannot be healed overnight. It is important to keep the channels of communication open between the two countries, as was emphasised in the phone call between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz last month. Moreover, the process of restoring relations needs other positive steps, even if they are small, as a gesture of goodwill and building bridges. However, the most important thing is not to allow the Saudis and Emiratis to pollute the air, so that efforts do not collapse and relations deteriorate even further than they have.

Another development that is sure to influence the Turkish-Saudi relations is ending the Gulf crisis and achieving reconciliation with Qatar. Ankara welcomed the reconciliation, stressing that Turkey will continue its efforts to maintain Gulf security. To ensure the resilience of the reconciliation, Riyadh must distance itself from the adventures of Abu Dhabi, and the extent of its success in this will also determine the future of Turkish-Saudi relations to a large extent.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 9 December 2020

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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