Saudi king calls Turkish president ahead of G-20 summit

Riyadh and Ankara have pursued divergent paths in the past.
Saturday 21/11/2020
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and King Salman of Saudi Arabia (L) attend the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Istanbul Summit, April 14, 2016. (REUTERS)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and King Salman of Saudi Arabia (L) attend the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Istanbul Summit, April 14, 2016. (REUTERS)

RIYADH – Saudi state news agency SPA reported late on Friday that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss bilateral relations and coordinate efforts within G20 summit, which is taking place on November 21 and 22 in the kingdom.

The Turkish president is due to address the summit via video link today.

Early on Saturday, the Turkish Presidency said Erdogan and King Salman agreed in a phone call to “improve bilateral ties” and solve outstanding disputes through dialogue.

“President Erdogan and King Salman agreed to keep channels of dialogue open to improve bilateral ties and overcome issues,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

The Saudi news agency said briefly that, “The bilateral relations between the two countries were also discussed.”

— Divergent paths —

It remains to be seen if and how bilateral ties would improve in the future. Some analysts have speculated that the phone call was less a reflection of improved ties than an necessity of protocol considerations as Erdogan was to address a meeting chaired by the Saudi monarch.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been at odds for some years over foreign policy orientations and strategic differences.

Ankara has tried to posture as the defender of Muslim causes through a Muslim Brotherhood prism.  It has buttressed its posture with a military and economic alliance with Qatar, which is at odds with Riyadh in a regional row since June 2017.

Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, strives to be the leader of the Muslim world based on a moderate conservative platform denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda.

Many contentious cases have reflected these divergences in recent years. The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 sharply escalated tensions with Ankara politically exploiting the case against Riyadh.

Erdogan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government but did not blame any specific side.  Turkish pro-government media, however, never stopped denouncing the Saudi leadership’s stance on the issue.

Economic relations have also suffered. For more than a year, some Turkish traders have complained from an informal Saudi boycott of their exports. Turkey’s leading business groups urged Saudi Arabia last month to improve trade relations.

Earlier in October, the Saudi government media office said authorities have not placed any restrictions on Turkish goods.

However, in an apparently informal boycott of imports of Turkish goods, signs urging customers not to buy Turkish goods were seen in some retail stores in the capital Riyadh.

The head of Saudi Arabia’s non-governmental Chambers of Commerce, Ajlan al-Ajlan, had earlier called for the boycott.

On social media, the hashtags #Boycott_Turkish_Products and #Turkish_Products_Boycott_Camapaign have been trending in the last couple of months.

In Turkey, exporters said they had experienced growing difficulties with Saudi Arabia, although they faced fewer problems with regional trade hub the United Arab Emirates, which is also opposed to Turkish foreign policy in the region.

In 2019, Turkish exports to the kingdom amounted to some $3.1 billion. So far this year, neither Turkish nor Saudi trade data show an unusually large drop in two-way trade, even allowing for strains on global commerce from the coronavirus pandemic.

In the second quarter, Turkey was Saudi Arabia’s 12th trade partner by total import value. The latest data shows Saudi imports from Turkey were worth about $185 million in July, up from roughly $180 million in June.