Turkey’s Erdogan Heads to Saudi Arabia to Ease Tensions

BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey arrived in Saudi Arabia for his first visit in nearly five years on Thursday, capping his recent efforts to improve ties with the oil-rich kingdom at a time of deep economic distress at home and to ease years of tensions over the killing of the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

Mr. Erdogan landed in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on Thursday night, according to Turkish state news media, and was expected to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler shortly after.

Speaking to reporters at the airport before departing for Saudi Arabia, Mr. Erdogan said the trip was part of Turkey’s efforts to promote peace, dialogue and diplomacy in the region.

“My visit is the manifestation of our joint will to start a new period of cooperation as two brotherly countries with historic, cultural and humane ties,” he said.

Turkey this month granted a Saudi request to transfer the trial in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, a move that shut down the last case that rights activists hoped would further clarify how the murder took place. He was killed in 2018 by Saudi agents inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, and the transfer of the trial was most likely a prerequisite for Mr. Erdogan’s visit.

Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe who studies Turkish foreign policy, said the visit came after others aimed at improving Turkey’s ties with regional countries. Mr. Erdogan visited the United Arab Emirates, a close Saudi ally, in February, and received President Isaac Herzog of Israel in Turkey in March.

The visit to Saudi Arabia most likely came later because the issue of the Turkish trial of the suspects in the Khashoggi murder case had to be resolved first, Mr. Ulgen said.

“It is Erdogan bowing to pressure by the Saudis for the sake of normalization of the relationship,” he said.

According to a tentative schedule, Mr. Erdogan was expected to dine Thursday with King Salman, the Saudi monarch, and meet with Prince Mohammed, the king’s son and designated successor. But the Turkish news report on his arrival mentioned only a meeting with the king.

In his comments before leaving Turkey, Mr. Erdogan said he aimed to increase cooperation with Saudi Arabia on issues including energy, food security, defense and finance.

“We will discuss all those issues,” he said.

The visit also comes at a turbulent time for energy markets because of the war in Ukraine. Turkey gets much of its gas from Russia, and Mr. Erdogan has said that cutting Moscow off would damage Turkey’s economy.

Rampant inflation is among the Turkish government’s greatest domestic challenges, so Mr. Erdogan may be interested in the role of Saudi Arabia, as one of the world’s largest oil exporters, in keeping global prices in check.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have long stood on opposite sides of major splits in the Middle East, especially after the Arab Spring uprisings that spread across the region in the early 2010s. Turkey largely threw its weight behind the protest movements and Islamist groups, while Saudi Arabia sought to subvert them and actively supported some of the region’s strongmen.

Relations further deteriorated after 2018, when Saudi agents killed and dismembered Mr. Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi news media figure who had moved to the United States and become an outspoken critic of the Saudi crown prince, including in columns for The Washington Post.

The crime, whose sounds Turkish intelligence captured with bugs planted inside the consulate, shocked the world, and Mr. Erdogan’s government trickled out gory details to keep the story in the headlines and embarrass Prince Mohammed.

While never accusing Prince Mohammed by name of orchestrating the murder, Mr. Erdogan said the decision to kill Mr. Khashoggi had come from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, leaving little doubt as to whom he was talking about.

Prince Mohammed has denied that he had any foreknowledge of the plot against Mr. Khashoggi, but an assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that he had approved the plan to kill or capture Mr. Khashoggi.

More recently, Mr. Erdogan has sought to improve ties with Middle Eastern countries that his government had differed with on the Arab Spring and other issues, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

At least some of the motivation is economic. Turkey’s economy has been battered by inflation of more than 60 percent, and the value of the local currency has dropped, leaving many Turks feeling much poorer than they were not long ago. Turkey’s recent diplomatic initiatives have led to investment agreements and currency swaps aimed at bolstering its economy, and Saudi Arabia lifted an unofficial boycott of Turkish imports, allowing trade between the two countries to inch back up.

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