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Saudi TV: Erdogan's visit to kingdom was to 'fulfil his wish'

Report contradicts statements from Turkish presidency that visit came at the invitation of Riyadh
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz shaking hands with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (L) in Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah, 28 April 2022 (AFP)

The official Saudi TV has said that the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the kingdom last week came at the request of the latter, contradicting statements from the Turkish government that the invitation had come from Riyadh.

The visit, first reported by Middle East Eye on Tuesday, came after years of tensions in relations between the two countries over the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul. The CIA and the Turkish government believed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing himself.

A report on the Al-Ikhbariya channel said: "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Jeddah after fulfilling his wish to visit, where the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman will receive the leaders of the Islamic world in the last 10 days of Ramadan."

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The report added that the visit, the first since 2017, came after Erdogan "repeatedly expressed his wish to visit the kingdom, which has finally been achieved after five years".

The report pointed out that "the visit is very much needed by Erdogan, given the importance of communicating with Saudi leaders, to restore his relations with countries of the Arab world".

"Erdogan aims, through his visit, to restore water to its courses and reactivate the Saudi-Turkish Joint Coordination Council."

The Saudi statement contradicts the Turkish presidency's assertion that Erdogan's visit came at the invitation of the Saudi side.

"We visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. As two brotherly countries with historical, cultural and human relations, we are making unremitting efforts to strengthen all kinds of political, military and economic relations, and to start a new era between us," Erdogan's official account tweeted.

After months of diplomatic efforts to mend ties, 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. 

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

Erdogan had accused the "highest levels" of the Saudi government of giving the orders, but Ankara has since considerably softened its tone as it sought to mend ties with Saudi Arabia as part of a new regional policy to bolster the Turkish economy.

A US intelligence report released a year ago said that MBS 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.

'Great economic potential'

Erdogan left Saudi Arabia on Friday after a two-day trip in which he met with King Salman and the crown prince, and performed the Umrah pilgrimage in Mecca. 

On his flight back from the kingdom, Erdogan told reporters that his country and Saudi Arabia have a will to "reactivate a great economic potential". 

"We agreed with Saudi Arabia to reactivate a great economic potential through organisations that will bring our investors together," Erdogan said, without specifying the planned investments or mentioning a possible currency swap.

"We announced that we, as Turkey, would support them in their bid to host EXPO 2030 in Riyadh," he added.

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Saudi Arabia imposed an unofficial boycott on Turkish goods over the Khashoggi affair after a Turkish court's decision to accept two separate indictments against Saudi officials said to be involved in the journalist's murder.

Since October 2020, the Saudi government has systematically pressured local businesses not to trade with Turkish companies and to remove Turkish goods from their shelves, which has dealt a blow to Turkish exports to the kingdom. 

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

Turkey and the UAE repaired ties in 2021 after nearly 10 years, with Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi also now reconciled with Ankara's ally, Qatar.

"We approached them [Saudi Arabia] in the past, but they weren't serious," the Turkish official said.

"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."

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.