Saudi crown prince pays first visit to Turkey since Khashoggi murder

Published : 22 Jun 2022 08:54 PM

Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler will on Wednesday take another step out of his international isolation by paying his first visit to Turkey since the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in  the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.

The talks in Ankara between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Turkey's  Recep Tayyip Erdogan come one month before US President Joe Biden visits  Riyadh for a regional summit focused on the energy crunch caused by Russia's  invasion of Ukraine.

Erdogan's decision to revive ties with one of his biggest rivals is also  driven in large part by economics and trade.

Turks' living standards are imploding one year before a general election that  poses one of the biggest challenges of Erdogan's mercurial two-decade rule.

Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government released scant details of the gruesome  murder that deeply embarrassed the Saudi crown prince.

But it is now drumming up investment and central bank assistance from the  very countries it opposed on ideological grounds in the wake of the Arab  Spring revolts.

"I think this is probably one of the most significant visits to Ankara by a  foreign leader in almost a decade," said The Washington Institute's Turkey  specialist Soner Cagaptay.

"Erdogan is all about Erdogan. He's all about winning elections and I think  he has decided to kind of swallow his pride."

The Turkish leader is scheduled to receive the crown prince at his  presidential palace and then host him at a private dinner.

No press conference or signing ceremony is planned.

Analysts believe Prince Mohammed will be looking to see if he can win broader  backing ahead of a possible new nuclear agreement between world powers and  the Saudis' arch-nemesis Iran.

"There is increased confidence (in Riyadh) that Ankara could be more useful  in the current geopolitical environment," the Eurasia Group said in a  research note.

Turkey's rapprochement with the Saudis began with an Istanbul court decision  in April to break off the trial in absentia of 26 suspects accused of links  to Khashoggi's killing and to transfer the case to Riyadh.

US intelligence officials have determined that Prince Mohammed approved the  plot against Khashoggi -- which Riyadh denies.

The court's decision drew strong protests from Khashoggi's Turkish fiancee  Hatice Cengiz.

But it paved the way for a politically sensitive visit to Saudi Arabia by  Erdogan just three weeks later.

The kingdom's state media ended up releasing a picture of Erdogan hugging the  crown prince that created a furore in Turkey.

"He gets off the plane and hugs the killers," fumed Turkey's main opposition 

leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan's likely chief rival in the presidential race.