Column: Saudi-Turkish ties get new meaning

ANKARA, TURKEY - SEPTEMBER 29: Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) is welcomed by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim (L) at the Esenboga International Airport in Ankara, Turkey on September 29, 2016. ( Anadolu Agency - Hakan Göktepe )

Upon the invitation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef paid a two-day official visit to Turkish capital of Ankara from Sept. 29-30.

The visit of the crown prince, who was accompanied by a high-level delegation, is just a routine visit which aims to enhance political and economic ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the two regional heavyweights.

However, this routine visit comes at a crucial time while Turkey is going through tough days since the failed coup attempt of July 15. The crown prince’s visit is the second one from the Saudi side since the bloody coup attempt. On several occasions and also during the crown prince’s meetings with Turkish officials, the Turkish side underlined its contentedness with the Saudi position against the coup attempt.

The timing of the visit becomes important due to several reasons. First, it comes at a time while Turkey’s ongoing operation in Syria has taken a critical phase. A month has passed since Turkey and Turkish-supported Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched the Euphrates Shield Operation, which has led the years-long Syrian crisis to enter a new era. Following the coup attempt, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildrim announced that a new page will be opened in Turkey’s Syria policy. And it was just after a month that the button for Euphrates Shield Operation was pushed.

Given the complicated picture in the Syrian war, which has become an internationalized multi-sided battlefield, it is still unclear how long this operation will last. However, based on the developments in the region, it seems Turkish troops in Syrian territory will stay for a long term.

On Friday, the Saudi crown prince was received by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an official ceremony at the Presidential Palace. President Erdogan and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef then had a tete-a-tete meeting. Following the meeting, the crown prince was presented with the Order of the State by President Erdogan.

The process and the ways to resolve the crisis in Syria was for no doubt the most important topic that dominated the talks between the Saudi and Turkish officials. Regarding Syria, both Ankara and Riyadh are on the same page and share similar views. That is — the ouster of Bashar Assad regime, support for Syrian opposition, integrity of Syria and a political solution for the crisis. During his visit to Turkey recently, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir also stated that his country supports Turkey’s operation in Syria, adding that both countries support the moderate opposition there.

The visit also came at a time while Syrian regime is carrying out a deadly aerial bombardment against opposition-held parts of eastern Aleppo that cost lives of hundreds of civilians. So, long story short: Syria file was as usual the hardest one on the table in discussions. Besides these topics, the regional challenges that the two countries face, such as instability in Iraq and Yemen, also occupy the agenda of talks.

Yildrim, who received Saudi crown prince on Thursday afternoon and discussed bilateral ties and regional issues during a meeting with him in Çankaya Palace in Ankara, stressed increased cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the “fight against terrorism.” On his part, the crown prince highlighted the “key role” that Ankara and Riyadh play in the region in order to secure stability and security.

Meanwhile, the visit also saw the inking of several agreements between Turkish and Saudi side. A memorandum of understanding was inked to enhance cooperation in the field of labor and a deal on media was signed. Also, a protocol to strengthen the cultural ties between the two states was inked. In the framework of the protocol regarding culture, 2017-2018 was declared as the years of culture between the two countries.

The visit also saw the revival of the “Saudi-Turkish Strategic Cooperation Council,” which was established in April in order to bolster economic ties between the two states. Needless to say, the economic ties between the two countries are below the expectation despite the good potential between Ankara and Riyadh. Thus, crown prince’s visit is expected to bear fruit in this respect.

It is important to note that Erdogan’s meeting with the crown prince have the characteristic of being the “6th meeting” with a top Saudi official within a year. And also it becomes the second between Erdogan and Crown Prince Nayef within less than 10 days after both met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Sept. 21.

It is also noteworthy to mention that this is the third time Erdogan is coming together with a Saudi official within a month. The high-level meetings between the two countries started from the end of last year, and the recent visits show that this pace is expected to continue.

Ankara and Riyadh seems to be eager to strengthen the cooperation through these visits while the region is going through critical days and poses challenges for both countries. Also, when taking into consideration the US’ relations with both regional allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the close cooperation between Ankara and Riyadh becomes more meaningful. It seems that the coming days will show us the outcomes of these visits.

Sinem Cengiz – Arab News