Erdogan-Tamim summit sets common agenda for Turkey, Qatar

The Istanbul meetings adopted a cautious stand towards Tehran's policies in the region, according to Turkish sources.
Friday 30/11/2018
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani ahead of their talks in Istanbul, on November 26. (Turkish Presidential Palace)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani ahead of their talks in Istanbul, on November 26. (Turkish Presidential Palace)

ANKARA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani reached agreements on a wide range of issues, including security and military areas of cooperation, during meetings establishing a common Turkish-Qatari agenda, Turkish sources said on condition of anonymity.

Sheikh Tamim was in Istanbul for the Turkey-Qatar High Strategic Committee meeting, marking the 45th year of bilateral ties.

Turkish sources, who spoke to members of the government delegations, said the agreements would provide for more Turkish military supplies to Qatar's military, the integration of Turkish and Qatari security efforts during FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar and the building of an international communication and public relations partnership between the two countries.

The sources said Ankara and Doha will seek to "avoid a political escalation with Saudi Arabia and endeavour instead to invest in opportunities of dialogue with the kingdom," in addition to emphasising the two countries' keenness on Saudi security and stability.

Such potential cooperation between Turkey and Qatar regarding Saudi Arabia contrasts sharply with a leak campaign targeting the Saudi leadership in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October. The new approach, if pursued, could be a game changer for regional politics.

Analysts have painted the Khashoggi-related campaign as an effort by intelligence services and pro-government media in both countries to destabilise Saudi Arabia and weaken the hold on power of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

Part of the Istanbul talks, the sources said, focused on countering the United Arab Emirates’ influence and "keeping Abu Dhabi away from key circles of influence in Saudi Arabia."

A common policy of not getting involved in policies that support Iran's destabilising agenda for the region and greater coordination in dealing with Yemeni and Libyan issues was also agreed to by the two countries, the sources said.

Diplomatic circles see Qatar and Turkey as suspicious of Iran's designs in the region, despite Doha’s alliance with Tehran after Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed diplomatic and economic ties because of Qatar's alleged support for terrorism and meddling in other nations' affairs.

The Istanbul meetings adopted a cautious stand towards Tehran's policies in the region so as "to avoid getting involved in any Iranian agenda that might harm the security of the region," the sources said.

This Turkish-Qatari position reflected common wariness about Washington's growing resentment of the development of closer relations between Qatar and Iran as well as of Erdogan's attempts to resist the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Tehran.

The two sides contended that "the boycott of Qatar did not achieve its intended goals but made Qatar, instead, more open to the world," added the sources.

The Turkish sources said the Turkish and Qatari leaders see a need to approach the Trump administration regarding its stance towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both Doha and Ankara, which are closely connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, are interested in convincing the US administration to be more accommodating towards the Islamist organisation, despite calls in the US Congress to consider it a terrorist group.

According to the Turkish sources, the Turkish-Qatari leaderships were said to be gratified by the "significant progress achieved in the course of direct dialogue between the US administration and the Muslim Brotherhood branches in Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Libya".

Doha and Ankara see this dialogue as a means to "counter accusations of terrorism levied against the branches of the organisation by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia," as well as a way "to formulate a new vision for future cooperation between Washington and the organisation," the sources said.

A Turkish source said the creation of a joint security operations command in Doha to oversee the security of the World Cup games was also discussed.

This move is expected to strengthen Turkey’s military and security influence in Qatar, given the presence there already of a Turkish military base tasked with providing direct protection for Qatari state institutions and securing the safety of the ruling family in the event of unrest.

The Qatari Army will also be receiving more Turkish weapons, which means that Turkish experts will likely be sent to Qatar to train soldiers. The direct involvement of Turkish trainers is likely to affect the military doctrine of the Qatari Army and give the Turkish army a foothold near the waters of the Arabian Gulf for decades to come. In return, Qatar will increase its investments in Turkey's military industry.

Since the boycott imposed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in June 2017, Qatar has sought Turkey’s security and military assistance. Qatar has also focused on countering the UAE, which it sees as a major obstacle to the expansion of any Islamic project between Ankara and Doha, inspired by their common ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The sources said Erdogan and Sheikh Tamim recommended that "a dialogue be engaged directly with the emirate of Dubai and the emirate of Sharjah, based on direct political and economic cooperation with them."

As part of the coordinated communication and public relations partnership which the two countries will pursue in order to influence regional and international public, Qatar-based Al Jazeera and the English-language Turkish TRT Channel will be tasked with developing a vision through which the two countries can influence the world's public opinion in pursuit of "the interests of both countries."

Turkish sources said the future common agenda will also include close coordination of joint moves regarding the war in Yemen. Qatar has been for months exerting diplomatic efforts to bring about a change in the US administration’s position, which is supportive of the Saudi-led coalition and the Yemeni government headed by President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Turkey and Qatar also agreed to contribute to the reconstruction of Yemen. They will "support the reconciliation process in Libya and support international efforts aimed at reaching a peaceful political solution," based on disarming all militias in Libya, starting with Libyan Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s militias, said the sources.