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Erdogan Visits Saudi Arabia to End Khashoggi Rift

An ailing economy has brought Erdogan down from the soapbox, as he comes to Riyadh with outstretched palms.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the opening day of the G-20 Leaders' Summit in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30, 2018.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the opening day of the G-20 Leaders' Summit in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30, 2018.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the opening day of the G-20 Leaders' Summit in Buenos Aires on Nov. 30, 2018. Daniel Jayo/Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to Saudi Arabia, U.N. chief António Guterres’s visit to Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Erdogan and MBS to Mend Ties

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s trip to Saudi Arabia, U.N. chief António Guterres’s visit to Ukraine, and more news worth following from around the world.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Erdogan and MBS to Mend Ties

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visits Saudi Arabia on Thursday, where he is expected to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler.

The meeting marks a sea change in Turkey’s approach to Saudi Arabia after relations between the two countries reached a nadir following the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and U.S. resident, who was killed and dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The U.S. intelligence community has since concluded that the crown prince approved the killing.

Erdogan had described the killing as “arguably the most influential and controversial incident of the 21st century” and accused the “highest levels” of the Saudi government of being involved—but never mentioned Mohammed bin Salman by name.

His bluster has since grown quiet, and the Khashoggi affair was effectively swept under the rug this month, when the legal case against the 26 Saudi men accused of being involved in the killing was transferred from an Istanbul court to Riyadh. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, has appealed the move.

So why the U-turn? The short answer is that Turkey needs all the friends it can get right now as runaway inflation and a currency crisis threaten its economic stability. Turkey will also hold national elections around this time next year, which means Erdogan has little time to prove he remains the right person to steer the economy.

Ankara has already been busy in the Middle East this year, striking a deal with Abu Dhabi in January that amounted to a $5 billion boost for Turkey’s currency reserves. It follows the creation of a $10 billion Emirati investment fund for Turkish projects last November. Erdogan will hope for similar largesse from Riyadh.

The longer explanation for Erdogan’s trip brings us back to the Arab Spring, when Turkey and Saudi Arabia were on opposing sides of the debate over the future of the Middle East, with Ankara promoting Islamist democracy along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood and Erdogan’s own Justice and Development Party (AKP), while Riyadh backed the authoritarian and monarchical status quo. Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at St. Lawrence University and the Middle East Institute, said Erdogan’s fury over Khashoggi’s killing is best understood through this lens.

“I think if the decision to turn over the Khashoggi case back to the Saudis is a political decision, so was the decision to make it a cause célèbre on the part of Ankara,” Eissenstat said. With Saudi Arabia’s ruling model triumphant more than a decade after the Arab uprisings, and Riyadh’s blockade of Turkish ally Qatar over, it appears pragmatism is winning out over ideology.

“In the grand scheme of things, neither really achieved their maximal goals, so I don’t think there’s much of a rationale to keep the conflict on the front burner anymore,” Eissenstat said.

The rapprochement can be seen as part of a wider trend across the Middle East, where U.S. retrenchment is causing countries to reassess their relationships.

That can be seen in Israel’s warming ties with Arab nations following the Abraham Accords, the political rehabilitation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Qatar’s return to the Gulf fold, and even normalization talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Erdogan’s arrival in Riyadh also speaks to Saudi Arabia’s endurance, with the kingdom able to weather the Arab Spring, a disastrous war in Yemen, the global backlash to Khashoggi’s killing, and the arrival of a less agreeable White House under President Joe Biden with relative ease.

Russia’s war in Ukraine appears to have strengthened the Saudi hand further. The knock-on effect on oil prices means the country will see its first budget surplus since 2013, economic growth is expected to reach at least 7.6 percent this year, and its stock market is the sixth-best performing worldwide.

So far, Saudi Arabia has rebuffed U.S. calls to pump more oil to keep prices down and undercut Russia’s economy. As Fareed Zakaria argued in the Washington Post last week, Washington might make more headway if it offered something more concrete in return, such as broad regional security guarantees.


What We’re Following Today

Scholz in Tokyo. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida hosts his German counterpart, Olaf Scholz, in Tokyo on Thursday, as the leader of the world’s fourth-largest economy pays a two-day visit to the world’s third-largest. The two are expected to discuss the war in Ukraine as well as a more assertive China. The two will likely meet again in June, when Germany hosts a G-7 summit.

Guterres in Kyiv. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Thursday. The U.N. chief’s visit comes after he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the two agreed “in principle” to allow the involvement of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross in the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant.


Keep an Eye On

The EU vs. Hungary. The European Union triggered its rule of law powers for the first time on Wednesday, accusing Hungary of misusing EU funds. Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner for budget and administration, has invited Budapest to reply to the concerns raised, beginning a process that could take months.

Russia cuts off Poland and Bulgaria. Russia cut off gas exports to NATO and EU members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday, making good on a threat to impose consequences on “unfriendly” nations that refused to pay for the fuel in rubles. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has described the move as “blackmail” and added that the “era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end.”


FP Live

In an interview that will be released at 12 p.m. on May 4, Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to U.S. President Joe Biden, joins FP Editor in Chief Ravi Agrawal for a conversation about the global response to COVID-19, the rise of misinformation surrounding the virus, and the challenges ahead.

FP subscribers can submit their questions to Fauci ahead of time here.

Asking questions during FP Live interviews is an exclusive benefit of an FP subscription. Subscribe today to join the conversation


Odds and Ends

In a landmark ruling, Italy will include the surnames of both the father and the mother on new birth certificates, after the Constitutional Court ruled that the practice of automatically registering newborn children under only the father’s name was “illegitimate.” Parents will still be able to ultimately choose one surname or both, but the ruling paves the way for Italian women to be given stronger naming rights over their children. Previously, women could only pass on their last name in cases where the father chose to be absent, effectively leaving the decision in the hands of the father.

“Both parents should be able to share the choice of a surname, which is a fundamental element for one’s personal identity,” the court wrote.

Correction, April 28, 2022: A previous version of this newsletter misspelled Howard Eissenstat’s last name. It has been fixed. 

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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