Saudi King Abdulaziz visits Turkey on April 11-13 to boost ties, stabilize regional peace!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Entire West Asia, except US sponsored Israel, has been in turmoil for years now with foreign forces invading, occupying and destabilizing the Arab nations one by one. Saudi Arabia and Turkey in recent times have come together to make the region tension free as well as nuke free. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Riyadh last year became a turning point in the bilateral relations.
The King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud pays an official visit to Turkey on April 11-13 to boost bilateral ties and discuss a range of issues from bilateral to global matters. Turkish president’s office confirmed in a statement that the meetings would be held within the framework of the visit, in addition to bilateral relations, both regional and global issues will be dealt with. The most important item in King’s bag is the Islamic Army and the fight against terror in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
The visit, the first after the King was crowned in January 2015, comes on the eve of another round of peace talks on Syria in Geneva this week. Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia remain staunchly opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and support rebel factions that have been fighting a five-year battle to oust the Damascus government. Both Ankara and Riyadh want Assad’s departure as part of the peace deal that will follow the agreement on cessation of hostilities in Syria.
The King‘s visit may serve an opportunity to better coordinate some of the policies between Ankara and Riyadh with respect to policies in the region. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are regional heavyweights that pursue by and large similar policies albeit with some differences. However, they differ on who should be replacing Assad in the post-conflict era.
During the visit of Saudi King, a formal agreement establishing a high-level strategic council, a mechanism for intergovernmental conference, is expected to sign by leaders of both sides. The idea was first proposed during Turkish President Erdogan’s visit to Saudi Arabia in December and was further discussed by visiting Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Riyadh in January. Davutoglu underlined that the agreement will frame the shared strategic perspective in a structural form, saying that it would further deepen bilateral ties.
Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been making efforts to find a credible solution to Syrian crisis and following Putin’s decision to withdraw forces and end hostilities in Syria, they sought to speed up efforts to make Syria a peaceful nation.
Apparently, Turkey’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been propping the pro-Islam religious group Muslim Brotherhood to a role of power broker in future Syrian government while Saudi Arabia is concerned about the prospect of raising profile for political Islamists who may want to extend their influence to the kingdom eventually. Riyadh wants Turkey to help muting the effects of political Islamists in Saudi kingdom.
Erdogan’s visit follows a period of tension between the two regional powers over Egypt, with Turkey backing deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi and the Saudis backing his successor Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In turn, Turkey’s relationship with Egypt soured after the Egyptian military ousted Morsi. Cairo accused Turkey of interference and supporting the Brotherhood, which Egypt designated as a terrorist organisation in December of the same year.
The fact that Turkey and Egypt, two heavyweights in the region, are at odds each other has complicated Saudi Arabia’s initiatives in the Middle East. Turkey is keen to foster better business and trade ties with Saudi Arabia. Turkish businesses eye defense and housing markets in Saudi Arabia while Ankara tries to woo Saudi investors to Turkey. The Turkish leader said his government would like to see Saudi investment, which currently stood at some two billion US dollars, to go up to 10 billion and later 20 in stages. The trade volume between the two countries was 5.9 billion dollars in 2012 and came down to 5.6 billion in 2015. According to the latest available trade data from the Turkish government, the volume has only slightly increased by 2.3 percent in January-February period, comparing to the same period last year.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia has led an initiative to form 34-nation Islamic military alliance against radical terrorist groups. Turkey said it would join the alliance. Pro-government media run stories praising the alliance, dubbing the initiative as rivaling to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance (NATO). In February, the Turkish military along with some 20 countries took part in a region-wide military exercise led by Saudi Arabia. Riyadh also sent several F-15 fighter jets to join a military drill run by Turkish Air Force in the province of Konya in central Turkey.
Against the backdrop of Iran’s rising influence in the region, especially in the Gulf, Riyadh has been lobbying Sunni nations to jointly thwart what it calls Iran’s regional ambitions and expansionist policies. In January, Turkey sided with Saudi Arabia when Riyadh had a diplomatic rift with Tehran over the execution of an influential Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia and the orchestrated attacks on the Saudi missions in Iran. Both Ankara and Riyadh are concerned about developments in Iraq and Yemen where sectarian conflicts pose a spillover risks to both Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia are among regional countries that signed on to the USA-led coalition against the threat of Islamic State (IS) militant group. In February, four Saudi warplanes were deployed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base in southern province Adana near Syrian border to take part in aerial missions against the ISIS.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey have emerged as two of the most stable countries following the Arab uprisings and, with ongoing fighting in neighbouring countries; both are keen to maintain regional stability. While Saudi Arabia relies on its ability to maintain allies through financial support and on its leading status among the Gulf countries to preserve stability, such as providing army troops to quell the protests in Bahrain, Turkey’s position has favored other forces, offering support to the Islamist parties which entered politics following the overthrow of dictatorships in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
Contemporary relations between European Turkey and West Asian Saudi Arabia appear to be on a major high. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said relations between the two are at a commendable level but far from reflecting the true potential but knowing the critical ramifications of regional conflicts for peace and security in the entire region, both Islamic leaders try to bridge the gap lying between them. Highlighting the crises across the region, Kalin said that Turkey and Saudi Arabia had agreed to expand their bilateral relations which he said “will go a long way in confronting the current crises.
Where the countries’ foreign policies have aligned, they have sought to head a Sunni front against what they perceive to be the threat of Iranian hegemony by seeking out alliances with other countries in the region and supporting the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.
Saudi kingdom, on the other hand, has offered Egypt millions of dollars in aid. Even after damning leaks appeared to reveal Sisi ridiculing his Gulf backers and saying he despised them, King Salman told Saudi media that bilateral ties were “stronger than any attempt to disturb them.” But in recent weeks there has been speculation of a shift in Saudi’s policy towards the Brotherhood after the country’s foreign minister Saud bin Faisal said publicly that Riyadh has “no problem” with the group – which has raised bigger questions of Saudi’s greater policy towards Egypt.
Saudi commentators also highlighting the warming overtures, follow Erdogan’s first visit as president, a position he took over last August, to Saudi Arabia where he met with the new Saudi monarch King Salman, successor of the late King Abdullah.
The King, who visits Egypt before heading to Turkey, has been reportedly endeavoring to mend the fences between Ankara and Cairo. Diplomatic ties between Turkey and Egypt broke off after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 amid popular protests. Turkey says it does not recognize regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as legitimate.
After wrapping his official visit in Ankara, the Saudi monarch will fly to Istanbul for the 13th Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit. Although it is not officially confirmed yet, Turkish media claimed Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, may come for the OIC summit in Turkey, marking a first official step between the two.