The visit of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to the capital, Ankara, on Wednesday, and his meeting with Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, constituted the latest stage in the re-normalization of relations between the two countries, whose relations have been strained for years, following several files, on top of which is the case of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
This lightning visit ended with a joint statement, indicating the “start of a new era” of cooperation in bilateral relations between the two countries, including political, economic, military, security and cultural relations.
Although the statement touched on many of the common relations between Ankara and Riyadh, it did not include the announcement of the signing of any agreements or memoranda of understanding, as happened recently in the visits that Ankara witnessed, especially when the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, arrived in late last year.
Its content included phrases such as: “agreeing to activate, agreeing on the importance, agreeing on the need to develop partnerships, the determination to improve cooperation, deepening consultation and cooperation in regional issues.”
While Saudi observers see that the statement was formulated “realistically and rationally, far from loading things up with what they might bear”, other Turks emphasized that, and spoke that the “declaration of the agreement” would be in the next stage, and that what happened Wednesday is a “first and not a final stop.”
How did the two sides deal?
Until Thursday, Mohammed bin Salman’s arrival in Ankara topped Turkish media reports, as well as Saudi media, and social media users from both countries.
In the media. Interesting were the videos posted by users on the Twitter network, first during Erdogan’s reception of the crown prince at the presidential palace, and then during the dinner, which was held in honor of the arrival.
While the reception was official and at the highest levels, the recording of the atmosphere of the dinner was met with interaction in Saudi circles, where Mohammed bin Salman and Erdogan appeared at one table, while a Turkish singer chanted the song “This Saudi is above above”, whose words specifically praise the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
On the other hand, the visit and what will be after it received the attention of the Turkish media, as it published a series of reports in which it spoke, in particular about the “economic expectations”.
And media close to the government quoted Finance Minister Noureddine Nebti as saying that he “discussed with the Saudi delegation accompanying bin Salman facilitating bilateral trade relations, sustainable development, and evaluating investment opportunities.”
For its part, Anadolu Agency reported that the Turkish “Yashar Holding Company” had signed an agreement to invest in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“The Kingdom is a very large market. This agreement may include a production facility or other lines of business,” it quoted the chairwoman of the holding company, Fayhan Yasar, as saying.
Yasar spoke that her company “aims to reach the Saudi market faster and at a lower cost,” noting that it plans to hold a meeting in August to strengthen relations between the two countries.
In turn, Chairman of the Council on Foreign Economic Relations (DEIK), Neil Olbach, considered that Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Ankara “is very important. He came to Turkey with a delegation of 35 representatives of leading companies from his country.”
He added, according to what was reported by the economic newspaper “Dunya” on Thursday: “In the conversations that we had with the Saudi delegation, we talked about compensating the past, and we asked how we can move forward.”
“The content of the visit and the warmth of the messages were very important,” Olbach said.
He continued, “Usually, we put forward projects in Saudi Arabia and say we want to get a share of them, but now they made an offer before we even say that. We have projects that are expressed in trillions of dollars.”
The official expressed that the visit of “the leaders (Erdogan and bin Salman) will pave the way for us,” noting: “I believe that we will reach a mutual trade volume of 10 billion dollars in 2023, as long as our path is clear and the political will is in the middle.”
“A new window”
The former advisor to the Saudi Foreign Ministry, Salem Al-Yami, believes that the visit “is a new window for Saudi-Turkish relations”, and that “we must know that the relations between the two sides are important and historical relations and include most aspects of international cooperation.”
Al-Yami told Al-Hurra: “What happened is a new start for these paths, after overcoming a set of circumstances, which led to relations entering the shadow region.”
He added, “The Saudi-Turkish relations in the first circle are for the benefit of both sides, and I believe that new elements will emerge in these relations, including military and security cooperation. In the end, I see that strengthening these relations, their continuation and their support will be an important tributary to security and stability in the region.”
For his part, the director of the “Istanbul Institute of Thought”, Bekir Atajan, considered that the visit opens “the doors to new alliances.”
Atajan told Al-Hurra: “In the coming months, all things will crystallize. It is true that 100% results were not reached, but the discussion will develop into financial, commercial and military agreements later.”
“The visit was a formal bilateral visit of preliminary and not final understandings. What is taking place between countries is being felt,” according to Atajan.
Meanwhile, Turkish writer and journalist Mehmet Agat considered that “it is expected to lift some Saudi bans on Turkish products, and to take steps to revive economic relations.”
“We know that the way forward in relations is done using a pre-determined roadmap. It will be applied repeatedly when negotiating such matters,” Agat says.
“About two months ago, I heard statements from a senior Turkish official that the process of normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia would also proceed in an agreed-upon roadmap.”
“It is likely that this process will continue in the next stage,” Agat continues.
Is the statement “loose”?
Trade between Turkey and Saudi Arabia was about $5.6 billion in 2015, before diplomatic problems.
With the decision of the Saudi unofficial ban on Turkish products in the last quarter of 2020, there was a significant drop in exports to this country.
Recent official statistics published by the state TV website “trt” indicate that Turkey sold products worth approximately $2.4 billion to Saudi Arabia in 2020, but this number decreased to $215.1 million last year.
Saudi Arabia exports petroleum and chemical products to Turkey, while importing various products from Turkey, including manufactured petroleum products, electrical panels, rebar, and furniture.
The Saudi political analyst, Mubarak Al-Ati considered that “the economy will lead the Saudi-Turkish relations to deeper, broader and broader horizons, based on the principle of sovereignty and respect for the two countries.”
He told Al-Hurra: “We are on the threshold of a new phase. Now relations have normalized from the visit, and the borders and tourism between the two countries have been opened.”
Al-Ati expects that “relations will witness a boom in all aspects of life, and we will witness an increase in Turkish delegations to perform Umrah and Hajj, in contrast to the influx of Saudi tourist convoys to Turkey.”
Moreover, the political analyst points out that “there is an imminent increase in political, military, and security coordination regarding the security and stability of the region.”
Commenting on the joint statement issued after the visit, and whether it was “loose”, the same speaker added that it “was formulated in realistic and rational language, and it was remarkable that it focused on very important points, such as recalling the historical brotherly relations between the two brotherly countries and peoples. It is based anew on this matter.”
In contrast to the positive responses expressed by circles close to the Turkish government regarding the Saudi Crown Prince’s visit to Ankara, there was a hostile and resentful atmosphere on the part of the opposition parties, as well as journalists and writers who reject Erdogan’s policies.
The Turkish writer, Barış Sweidan, published an article on the opposition website Hulk, in which he said, “Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Ankara did not yield the expected results, as no joint press conference was held after the two leaders met, and there was no news about the currency exchange.”
Two days ago, Reuters quoted a senior Turkish official, who “required not to be named”, as saying that the visit is expected to achieve “full normalization and the restoration of the pre-crisis period,” adding, “a new era will begin.”
Regarding a possible currency exchange line, the official indicated that “the negotiations are not moving at the required speed,” and they will be discussed separately between the two parties.
In turn, the Turkish writer Suwaidan added: “Why are the Saudis reluctant to give money to Turkey? We don’t know what they demanded in bargaining behind the scenes,” noting that the matter may become clear during the next stage.
However, Anadolu Agency, in a report on Thursday, quoted Turkish Trade Minister Mehmet Muş as saying that “it was decided to draw up a road map to determine the work to be done in the next six months, especially the development of trade between the two countries.”
Minister Mosh had held a bilateral meeting with his Saudi counterpart, Majed bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, during which “it was agreed on the steps to be taken to develop and facilitate mutual trade between the two countries, and remove obstacles to it.”
According to Anatolia, “It is expected that the mutual visits between Saudi Arabia and Turkey will bring a more balanced structure of trade.”
She pointed out that Turkish contracting companies have implemented 377 projects worth $24.3 billion in Saudi Arabia so far, and that “with these numbers, Saudi Arabia is the sixth country in which Turkey implements most of the projects in terms of value.”