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Khashoggi: Erdogan plans to visit Saudi Arabia this week, ending rift over journalist's death

Trip comes after Turkish court handed the Saudi columnist's trial to authorities in Riyadh earlier this month
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (L) during a meeting as part of an official visit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, is seen shaking hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a meeting in Jeddah in 2017 (AFP)
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Ankara

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to visit Saudi Arabia later this week after years of tensions in relations between the two countries over the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, three sources familiar with the trip told Middle East Eye. 

Speaking anonymously, the sources said the visit was planned for Thursday, but scheduling issues could delay it to next month. 

Turkey met one of the key Saudi demands in repairing relations earlier this month by deciding to hand the Khashoggi trial to Saudi Arabia, a case involving 26 suspects linked to his killing. 

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The 59-year-old Washington Post and Middle East Eye columnist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, in a gruesome murder that shocked the world.

Ankara-Riyadh relations worsened significantly after the killing, but Turkey has since sought to mend ties with Saudi Arabia as part of a new regional policy to bolster its economy.

A US intelligence report released a year ago said Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi, but the Saudi government has denied any involvement by the crown prince and rejects the report's findings.

Three-and-a-half years after Saudi Arabia imposed a boycott on Turkish goods over the Khashoggi affair, the Saudi crown prince will attempt to use Erdogan's visit as leverage to bring a definitive end to the Khashoggi affair.

“For MBS, it's all about Khashoggi. He is obsessed by it. It's personal," one source with knowledge of the negotiations told MEE, using a common nickname for bin Salman.

"He blames Erdogan personally for getting America involved, and for not closing the affair down within the first few days.”

In addition to the Turkish case, there remains a second lawsuit in a US federal court filed by Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, and the US-based advocacy group Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), which Khashoggi established and ran before his death.

This lawsuit, Turkish officials argue, is beyond their reach.

'Saudis felt they have been getting excluded'

Although Cengiz’s lawyers appealed the Turkish court's decision to transfer the case to Saudi Arabia, an upper court rejected their request. One of the lawyers for Cengiz told MEE that they will take the case to the Court of Appeal and later to the Constitutional Court. 

A senior Turkish official, who is familiar with the talks between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, told MEE earlier this year that Riyadh has become more serious about repairing ties with Ankara after Erdogan met Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed in November. 

“We approached them in the past but they weren’t serious,” the official said.

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“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.” 

Turkey and the UAE repaired ties last year after nearly 10 years, with Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi also now reconciled with Ankara's ally Qatar.

Amid the reconciliation attempts, Turkey's exports to Saudi Arabia jumped by 25 percent in the first quarter of 2022, data shared by the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly indicated. 

Turkish exports reached nearly $70m in the first three months of this year, from an equivalent of $55m last year. The bulk of the exports occurred in March, increasing to $58m from $18.5m, a 215 percent increase year-on-year. 

Even though the amount is tiny compared to past figures, with Turkey in January 2020 alone exporting $221m worth of goods to Saudi Arabia, it may be a sign that Riyadh is easing its shadow import embargo on Ankara after months-long, behind-the-door talks and some Turkish reconciliation steps.