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Erdogan meets with Saudi crown prince in Jeddah after years of animosity

Two-day visit part of a broader regional rapprochement and comes after Turkey stopped prosecuting Saudi Khashoggi suspects
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, right, held a one-on-one meeting with Erdogan, left (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an official ceremony in the al-Salam palace in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, the Turkish presidency said in a statement on Thursday.

The visit, first reported by Middle East Eye on Tuesday, comes 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 crown prince later held a one-on-one meeting with Erdogan, Ankara's communication office said on Twitter.

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. 

Erdogan had accused the "highest levels" of the Saudi government of giving the orders but Ankara has since sharply softened its tone.

A US intelligence report released a year ago said Mohammed bin Salman had approved the operation to kill or capture Khashoggi, a Washington Post and Middle East Eye columnist, but the Saudi government has denied any involvement by the crown prince and rejects the report's findings.

Ankara-Riyadh relations worsened significantly after the killing, but a broad regional consensus is emerging that has brought the two closer together.

'Strengthening brotherly ties'

Speaking to reporters before departing for Jeddah, Erdogan said Thursday's visit was "the manifestation of our common will" to improve ties and strengthen political, military and cultural relations.

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He added it would be mutually beneficial to boost cooperation in areas including health, energy, food security, the defence industry, and finance.

"With common efforts, I believe we will carry our ties even beyond where they were in the past," he said.

In conciliatory remarks that stand in sharp contrast to the war of words in the aftermath of the Khashoggi murder, Erdogan cited the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as a fitting time for the visit, saying it was the month of "replenishing and strengthening brotherly ties."

'He blames Erdogan personally'

Ahead of Erdogan's visit, Turkish Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati said on Wednesday that he discussed ways to improve economic cooperation between the two countries in an online meeting with his Saudi counterpart Mohammed al-Jadaan.

The two officials also exchanged views on trade and areas of investment, Nebati said on Twitter.

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

“For MBS, it's all about Khashoggi. He is obsessed by it. It's personal," one source with knowledge of the trip told MEE earlier this week, using a common nickname for Mohammed 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.