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Turkey Steps Up Efforts to Win Back Mideast Partners  


FILE - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gives a statement to the media following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, Germany, May 6, 2021. (Reuters/Annegret Hilse/Pool)

Turkey’s foreign minister is visiting Saudi Arabia in a bid to repair deeply strained relations. The visit is part of broader regional efforts by Ankara to stem its growing isolation in the region.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu's two-day visit to Saudi Arabia that started Monday follows this month's phone call between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi King Salman.

The visit comes as an escalating rivalry between the two countries plunges relations to a historic low, with Turkey at one point accusing Saudi Arabia of enforcing a trade embargo.

Turkish presidential adviser Mesut Casin says Ankara is now looking for a reset.

"Turkey is looking for closer ties with Saudi Arabia, beneficial for the regional peace and security," he said. "Saudi Arabia is very important for Turkey. But there is a positive atmosphere and intention to repair. First, improve the economic relations in the trade side; Saudi Arabia the ban some of the Turkish products is not very good for Turkey we have to repair this situation."

Riyadh denies enforcing an embargo, but Ankara claims exports to the Kingdom had fallen by 90% in the last year.

FILE - A Saudi woman looks at the dairy products in a supermarket, after Saudi Arabia's retail stores urged customers to boycott Turkish products, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 18, 2020.
FILE - A Saudi woman looks at the dairy products in a supermarket, after Saudi Arabia's retail stores urged customers to boycott Turkish products, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 18, 2020.

Observers say Erdogan and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have been competing for regional leadership in the Middle East.

Following the 2018 murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Erdogan led international calls to hold Riyadh to account. Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute said Erdogan has ceased those efforts.

FILE - People hold pictures of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a gathering to mark the second anniversary of his killing at the Saudi Consulate, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 2, 2020.
FILE - People hold pictures of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a gathering to mark the second anniversary of his killing at the Saudi Consulate, in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 2, 2020.

"Tayyip Erdogan has realized that this policy cannot continue; they see that cooperation is more important, not confrontation, but cooperation. Tayyip Erdogan's personal sympathy for Saudi Arabia as an Islamist was always there. For him not to have good relations with Saudi Arabia is not acceptable," said Bagci.

Ankara also sees Riyadh as playing an essential role in its bid to repair relations with Egypt. Last week's high-level Turkish and Egyptian talks in Cairo to restore full diplomatic ties appear to have made little progress, with Cairo pressing for a withdrawal of Turkish forces from Libya and the extradition of Egyptian regime opponents living in Turkey.

International relations professor Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University says Turkey is in an increasingly vulnerable position.

"I think it's serious because the country is very isolated because, quite frankly, Turkey needs to have decent relations with all those countries, certainly with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, it will be isolated both in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean," he said.

With the Turkish economy struggling and its isolation growing, Ankara sees no choice but to reach out and start making friends again.

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