Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his intention to visit Saudi Arabia in February, at the invitation of King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. The announcement came in Erdogan's answer to a Turkish businesswoman's question about the undeclared Saudi ban on Turkish goods and her demand that this problem be solved.
The president will also visit the UAE capital next month, as he announced after the visit of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Ankara in December. It is expected that Erdogan's visit to Saudi Arabia will come immediately after his visit to the UAE and before his return to Turkey.
The rapid restoration of relations between the UAE and Turkey following the visit of the Emirati National Security Adviser, Tahnoun Bin Zayed, to the Turkish capital last August, led to expectations and anticipation for progress in the stalled talks between Ankara, Cairo and Riyadh, in order to accelerate steps towards achieving similar reconciliation between Turkey and Egypt on the one hand, and between Turkey and Saudi Arabia on the other. However, the Turkish president's announcement of this visit was surprising to many observers, given the absence of positive indicators on the Saudi side regarding imminent improvements in Turkish-Saudi relations.
Britain's Middle East Eye website quoted a senior Turkish official familiar with the talks between Turkey and Saudi Arabia as saying that "Riyadh has become more serious about repairing ties with Ankara after Erdogan met Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed in November." This indicates a change in Saudi Arabia's inflexible position on Turkey's desire to improve relations between the two countries because Ankara had, for some time, shown a desire to restore its relations with Saudi Arabia, and took tangible steps to show its goodwill. However, this initiative was not welcomed by the Saudi side until recently, which was confirmed by the Turkish official, who also said, "We approached them in the past, but they weren't serious."
"This time they approached us. The Saudis felt like they have been getting excluded in this regional reconciliation. They would like to be a part of it."
There are many factors that softened the Saudi position on reconciliation with Turkey, and the recent Turkish-Emirati rapprochement is certainly one of the most important of these factors. This is because Turkey's relations with three GCC countries were fine. After the UAE and Bahrain joined Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman, Saudi Arabia remained alone in the region in its hostility towards Turkey.
Last year, there were reconciliation talks between Riyadh and Tehran, mediated by Baghdad, but they reached a dead end. This is evidenced by recent statements by Saudi officials, including King Salman Bin Abdulaziz who told the Shura Council: "We follow with concern the Iranian government's policy which is destabilising regional security and stability, including building and backing sectarian armed militias and propagating its military power in other countries." Tehran's attack on Saudi Arabia through its proxy in Lebanon and accusing it of "terrorism", indicates the failure of the Saudi-Iranian talks.
The issue of the ban imposed by Saudi Arabia on Turkish products under the pretext of a "popular boycott" will undoubtedly be on the table during the Turkish president's upcoming visit to Riyadh. It is expected that the slogan of zero dealing with Turkey will disappear after the visit, because this policy, under the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, harms Saudi businessmen and merchants and the Saudi people, before it harms the Turkish economy.
The case of the assassination of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi – may God have mercy on his soul – in his country's consulate in Istanbul was one of the most important reasons for the deterioration of Turkish-Saudi relations. Turkey announced, through the Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, that it respects the Saudi court's ruling in the case, after it sought with all its evidence to reveal the circumstances of the crime and achieve justice. Ankara considers it unreasonable to keep Turkish-Saudi relations and the interests of the two countries hostage to this issue.
The return of Turkish-Saudi relations to their normal course will be in the interest of both countries, and the Turkish-Saudi reconciliation will reflect on regional files. Certainly, the coming days will show the extent to which Erdogan's visit to Saudi Arabia, if it actually takes place as announced, will break the ice, turn the page on tension, and open a new page in the bilateral relations between Ankara and Riyadh.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 5 January 2022
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.