Turkey takes advantage of the climate of reconciliation to promote economic interests in the Gulf

The failure to include Riyadh in Cavusoglu’s Gulf tour is an indication of continuing Saudi suspicions about Ankara’s attitude.
Thursday 11/02/2021
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Sabah (R) receives Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu  in Kuwait City, February 9, 2021. (KUNA)
Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Sabah (R) receives Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Kuwait City, February 9, 2021. (KUNA)

MUSCAT - Turkey did not waste much time before returning to the Arab Gulf region via Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, taking advantage of the new climate of reconciliation, which allows for lengthy visits such as those of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to the region.

Gulf analysts noted that while Saudi Arabia is preoccupied with the Yemen file, Turkey has concluded agreements with Oman and Kuwait without taking into consideration the political traditions of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially those having to do with prior coordination between member countries to avoid agreements that affect the security of other GCC countries, especially if those agreements are signed with countries such as Turkey and Iran, which are seen as representing a strategic threat to Gulf interests.

Analysts say that Saudi Arabia's willingness to reconcile and interact positively with Turkey does not mean that the Arab Gulf region as a whole, and the Saudis in particular, have forgotten about Ankara's antagonistic stances, especially its interference with Qatar's moves and its exploitation of the Khashoggi case to attack Saudi Arabia and assail its leadership's reputation.

Countries of the Gulf region know that the change in Turkish attitudes was a pragmatic move aimed at restoring economic relations with the Gulf countries and seizing a golden opportunity to alleviate the impact of the ongoing economic crisis, attract Gulf capital and overcome the slowdown of the real estate market and tourism sector in Turkey.

The Turkish economy was severely impacted by tensions fueled by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's hostile positions, especially with Saudi Arabia. Most Saudi companies have boycotted Turkish products in response to Erdogan and senior officials in his government targeting the kingdom, especially after the Arab quartet's boycott of Qatar starting June 2017 and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Turkish officials are now keen to show that they have changed their positions and that they support Gulf reconciliation. On Wednesday, the Turkish foreign minister said his country supports the unity, prosperity and security of the Gulf states.

After the reconciliation agreement reached at the Al-Ula summit in Saudi Arabia, Turkish positions have shifted to a large extent. Hostile diplomatic and media campaigns against Saudi Arabia and the UAE have given way to a narrative of support for reconciliation between Gulf countries.

The Turkish foreign ministry has also made no secret of its hope that the reconciliation process will lead to the restoration of solid relations with Arab Gulf states, after having long encouraged Qatar to escalate its row with boycotting countries.

The Turkish foreign ministry welcomed the Gulf reconciliation agreement. It said that "showing a common will to resolve the Gulf conflict and announcing the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Qatar are gratifying developments."

Gulf affairs experts believe that Turkey is likely to be the main beneficiary of Gulf reconciliation, and that the Saudis' lenient attitude could pave the way for Turkey to return to the Gulf.

They point out that had it not been for reconciliation and the Saudi leadership's propensity to transcend conflicts, Cavusoglu's tour would not have taken place.

Without a green-light from Riyadh, Oman and Kuwait would not have risked receiving Cavusoglu and be perceived as standing on Turkey's side against Saudi Arabia.

Observers say Saudi Arabia does not seem fully ready to engage with Turkey. The fact that Cavusoglu's tour did not include Saudi Arabia may be an indication that contentious issues between the two countries remain unresolved and that Riyadh first wants to permanently settle such issues with Ankara and obtain clear pledges from Ankara before completing the process of reconciliation between the two countries.

Bloomberg news agency recently reported on efforts by Turkey and Gulf countries to establish better relations in trade, security and other fields.

The agency said that these moves were premised on Turkey's agreement to give up its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation that is considered a terrorist group by a number of Arab countries. The issue is pivotal to Gulf countries and its close ally, Egypt.

Pending full engagement with Saudi Arabia and overcoming the fallout of the Khashoggi crisis, the Turks are working to build economic relations with Oman, Kuwait and Qatar.

Cavusoglu explained that he had a fruitful meeting with his Omani counterpart Sayyid Badr bin Hamad al-Busaidi, and that he had agreed with him to develop political, economic and commercial relations between the two countries.

Cavusoglu visited Kuwait on Tuesday, where he reportedly met with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, and Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Ahmad al-Sabah. They discussed several issues, including strengthening bilateral relations.

The Turkish minister said in a tweet that meeting with the Kuwaiti prime minister had been "fruitful" and expressed his satisfaction that the two countries had managed to maintain their level of trade despite the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and that Turkish contractors were carrying out several important projects in Kuwait.