Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Wednesday with a military band and an equestrian escort.
Turkish officials presented the visit as ushering in a new era in bilateral relations after years of bitter rivalry between Erdogan with the crown prince. The Turkish president led the international outcry in 2018 over the murder of prominent Saudi journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi, which took place in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate.
Timothy Ash of Bluejay Asset Management says Erdogan’s diplomatic reversal is driven by economic necessity.
“He’s got elections coming up by June next year,” Ash said. “The macro-economic situation in Turkey is pretty challenging. He always seems to be on the cusp of a balancing of payments crisis, big trade and current accounts deficits, limited reserves. The lira continues to weaken; you know they have limited foreign exchange reserves. So really, he needs money; he needs foreign currency to help him defend the currency to provide a bit of stability in the run-up to those elections.”
While a joint statement released by the two countries said the visit was carried out “in an atmosphere of sincerity and brotherhood,” there was no announcement of any Saudi financial support.
Analysts warn that despite Erdogan’s warm reception for the Saudi crown prince, like in many other countries in the region, trust remains an issue, said Mehmet Ogutcu, chairman of the London-based Energy Club.
“There is a criticism leveled at Turkey in the region as an assertive power,” Ogutcu said. “Therefore, there is suspicion, of course; this suspicion is mutual. Turkey does not fully trust these countries in the region, and neither do they trust.”
But security and defense issues are seen as offering crucial common ground. During the visit, the Saudi crown prince reportedly discussed purchasing Turkish military drones, which the Ukrainian army is using effectively against Russian forces.
Shared concerns over Iran are also seen as offering a basis for cooperation, said analyst Ogutcu.
“On the Saudi side, they need Turkey as a counterweight to Iran; they also realize that the United States will not be there to stay long because the U.S. priority is to contain China,” Ogutcu said. “Therefore, the U.S. engagement will not be that strong in the Middle East and Gulf, except for the security of Israel. So, therefore, Turkey is not a country they can ignore. But this will be give and take. So there are real economic, political, and security interests involved.”
With Erdogan facing reelection by June 2023 and lagging in the polls as the country’s economic woes grow, analysts suggest the crown prince may be reluctant to extend a financial lifeline to the Turkish president, who until recently has been a bitter rival.