Saudi crown prince visits Turkey, ending period of estrangement following Khashoggi murder

Mohammed bin Salman continues kingdom’s traditional practice of chequebook diplomacy

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman continued his first regional tour in nearly four years on Wednesday with a visit to Ankara to fully end estrangement over the 2018 murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Flush with $1 billion in daily oil export revenues, the crown prince, the de facto Saudi ruler, will carry on with the kingdom’s traditional practice of chequebook diplomacy to secure Turkish support for Saudi policies on crude exports, curbing Iran’s nuclear programme and human rights.

Discussions in Ankara are to focus on co-operation between banks, Saudi aid to small and medium-size firms, participation in the Turkish stock market, purchases of Turkish armed drones, and ending a 3½-year Saudi embargo on Turkish imports.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been compelled to reconcile with Riyadh by his loss of popularity ahead of next year’s presidential election. Turkey’s currency has lost 44 per cent of its value since 2021, inflation has risen to 73 per cent, and consumer prices have doubled due to his faulty economic policies. High costs of imported grain and fuel due to the war in Ukraine and lost revenue from Russian and Ukrainian tourists have added to Turkey’s economic woes.

Mr Erdogan initially alienated the Saudis in 2013 by backing Egypt’s ousted Muslim Brotherhood, which is regarded by the Saudis as a terrorist organisation. In 2017, Turkey supported pro-Brotherhood Qatar after it was blockaded by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and Egypt during post-Arab Spring turmoil. Antagonism deepened when, without naming Prince Mohammed, Mr Erdogan accused the “highest levels” of the Saudi government of ordering Khashoggi’s murder and a Turkish court conducted a trial in absentia of 26 Saudis accused of the crime.

To end the rift, Mr Erdogan reined in Brotherhood activities and transferred the court case to Riyadh, enabling him to travel to the kingdom in April to revive relations.

Ahead of his arrival in Ankara, prince Mohammed met with Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah to co-ordinate Arab policy ahead of next month’s Gulf Co-operation summit which will be attended by Gulf emirs and US president Joe Biden.

In Cairo, an agreement was reached for $7.7 billion (€7.3 billion) in trade and investment needed to keep the Egyptian economy afloat. Egypt extended backing for the Riyadh-appointed Yemeni presidential council to administer areas of that country held by pro-Saudi forces in the war with Houthi rebels.

In Amman, the crown prince sought to defuse suspicion over Saudi involvement in the “sedition case” prompted by open criticism of the royal family by the king’s half-brother, Prince Hamza. Prince Mohammed also denied reports that the Saudis sought to bypass the “two-state solution” for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli dispute and supplant Jordan as custodian of Muslim holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem.

Amman hopes Riyadh will unlock $200 million in investment Riyadh committed to in 2018 but did not deliver and seeks a Saudi pledge to help finance economic “modernisation” and expand trade with Saudi Arabia, Jordan’s largest trading partner.