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Saudi crown prince to visit Turkey in first since Khashoggi murder

Ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia seriously eroded over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi
— Istanbul (AFP)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will visit Turkey next week, the Turkish president said Friday, as Ankara and Riyadh heal a bitter rift following the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.

It is Prince Mohammed's first visit to Turkey since the brutal killing of Saudi insider-turned-critic Khashoggi inside the kingdom's consulate, which shocked the world and dealt a heavy blow to ties between the regional rivals.

"The crown prince will visit Wednesday, we will welcome him" at the presidential palace in Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters.

Further details of the June 22 trip by the kingdom's de facto ruler will be announced "over the weekend", a senior Turkish official told AFP earlier.

The two countries will sign several agreements during his trip as Turkey looks to non-Western partners for financial support as soaring inflation bites.

Erdogan had already paid his visit in late April to Saudi Arabia since the murder, where he met the prince before travelling to Mecca.

Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi, who wrote for the Washington Post, in October 2018. His remains have never been found.

Turkey angered Saudi Arabia by vigorously pursuing the case at the time, opening an investigation and briefing international media about the lurid details of the murder.

Erdogan previously said the "highest levels" of the Saudi government ordered the killing, although he has never blamed the crown prince directly.

But with ties on the mend, an Istanbul court halted the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi suspects linked to Khashoggi's death, transferring the case to Riyadh in April.

- Repairing relations -

Turkey already had strained relations with Saudi Arabia because of its support to Qatar during the 2017 Riyadh-led blockade on the Gulf state but relations were frozen for more than three years after Khashoggi's killing.

Saudi Arabia responded at the time with an unofficial boycott of Turkish imports, putting pressure on Turkey's economy.

Turkish exporters complained their goods were stuck at Saudi customs for longer than was necessary.

Now with inflation reaching 73.5 percent in May and a cost-of-living crisis a year before a presidential election, Erdogan needs backing from Gulf countries, experts say.

"Turkey's main concern would be getting Saudi funding to resupply central bank coffers that are dangerously low," Asli Aydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told AFP.

James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the University of Singapore's Middle East Institute, said "both countries need this visit".

While Turkey seeks financial investment, "Saudi may be interested in Turkish military technology, plus they are both competing for leadership in the region", he said.

The Turkish lira lost 44 percent of its value against the dollar in 2021, while the central bank has pumped billions of dollars to prop up the currency.

In the past 18 months, Turkey has also sought to repair relations with powerful countries in the region like Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

For the Saudi crown prince, the pariah status in the West after Khashoggi appears to be a thing of the past with US President Joe Biden heading to the Middle East next month and an expected stop in Saudi Arabia where the two men will meet.

French President Emmanuel Macron had already met Prince Mohammed in December during a visit to the kingdom.