Turkey’s foreign minister in Saudi Arabia for talks to mend ties

Trip comes as two countries look to reset relationship strained following 2018 killing of Saudi journalist in Istanbul.

Turkish officials had said Cavusoglu's visit could include talks on possible sales of Turkish drones to Saudi Arabia, which they said Riyadh had requested [File: Annegret Hilse/Reuters]

Turkey’s foreign minister has arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks, his first trip since journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s 2018 murder in Istanbul worsened relations between both countries.

Mevlut Cavusoglu’s visit, apparently aimed at mending ties with Riyadh, comes amid renewed clashes at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.

Turkish officials had said Cavusoglu’s visit could include talks on possible sales of Turkish drones to Saudi Arabia, which they said Riyadh had requested.

“In Saudi Arabia to discuss bilateral relations and important regional issues, especially the attacks at the Al-Aqsa mosque and the oppression against the Palestinian people,” Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter.

Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is also visiting Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah on Monday evening and will meet the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), to discuss bilateral ties and regional and international matters of common interest.

Qatar has close relations with Turkey and may be facilitating the latter’s talks with Riyadh, after the two Gulf countries reached in January a breakthrough in a three-year-old dispute. A statement issued by the emir’s office did not give further details.

More than 300 Palestinians were wounded on Monday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, after Israeli police fired rubber-coated bullets and tear gas at worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Mending ties

Ankara’s relations with Riyadh deteriorated sharply after the October 2018 murder of Khashoggi, 59, a Saudi journalist who wrote critical columns for The Washington Post.

Khashoggi was killed by a team of Saudi agents and was dismembered inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul after walking into the diplomatic compound to get documents ahead of his wedding with Turkish fiancee Hatice Cengiz.

His death and the subsequent disappearance of his body has tarnished MBS’s image and plunged Riyadh into a diplomatic crisis.

The crisis prompted an unofficial Saudi trade boycott which slashed the value of Turkish imports by 98 percent. Saudi Arabia is also closing eight Turkish schools in the kingdom, Anadolu reported last month.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the time that the order to kill Khashoggi had come from senior Saudi officials.

Turkey has also put on trial in absentia two close former aides of the crown prince, along with 24 other suspects.

Saudi interest in Turkish drones

But Turkey has been taking steps to fix its relations with Saudi Arabia, which remains an important trading partner.

Last week, Erdogan spoke by phone with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, although no details of those talks were released.

Cavusoglu’s two-day visit follows Turkey’s talks last week with Egypt, another US-allied regional power, also aimed at repairing troubled relations.

A senior Turkish official said that the trade embargo and the conflicts in Syria and Libya would be discussed with the Saudi Arabians. A Saudi request for Turkish armed drones may also be on the agenda, two Turkish officials said.

Erdogan said in March Saudi Arabia sought to buy Turkish armed unmanned aerial vehicles. Several countries have shown interest in the drones, which were used in conflicts in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies