Turkey and Saudi Arabia forge new ground
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Turkey and Saudi Arabia, former foes, are getting to be close friends. The two countries are cooperating on Palestinian-Israeli dispute and Iraq and planning to hold a meeting of Iraq’s neighboring countries in Cairo in March
ANKARA Turkish Daily News
During a last-minute meeting over the weekend, the onetime regional rivals Turkey and Saudi Arabia determined areas of common action on regional problems in the Middle East and Iraq. They also decided to hold a foreign ministers meeting of Iraq’s neighboring countries in Cairo in March, said diplomats in the wake of the Turkish ministerial visit to Riyadh.
During the talks, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül and his counterpart Saud Al Faisal agreed on the need to hold the foreign ministers meeting of Iraq’s neighboring countries as soon as possible if all of the participants could agree to convene in Cairo in March. “The first meeting of high-level officials is expected to take place in Baghdad but the foreign ministers meeting most probably will take place in Cairo,” ministry sources told the Turkish Daily News yesterday.
The TDN had reported earlier this month that Gül was not eager to go to Baghdad for the foreign ministerial meeting of Iraq’s neighboring countries. None of the participants are eager to go to Baghdad because of security concerns, but Turkey, however, has added political concerns. Ankara wants to see concrete steps taken regarding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) issue from Iraq before any official travel to the country. They also touched upon the problems in Iraq and the plans for a future meeting between Iraq’s neighbors.
In recent days Gül has confirmed his reluctance to hold the meeting in Baghdad. He and his counterpart agreed that a high-level committee meeting can still be held in Baghdad but the foreign ministers’ meeting could be held in Cairo in order to gain Egypt’s support for holding the meeting outside Iraq.
The foreign ministers of Iraq’s neighboring countries meet periodically to discuss how to contribute to the establishment of peace and security in Iraq.
Gül’s visit to Saudi Arabia came six months after the visit of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah to Turkey. Local commentators attributed the visit of the Saudi King in August 2006, the first in decades, as a “gift to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.”
Diplomatic gestures mark visit:
The same royal treatment King Abdullah enjoyed in Turkey was extended to Gül. A brief telephone call from Erdoğan assured the King’s reception of Gül. This marked a sharp contrast to the previous trips when the Turkish foreign minister, again on an official visit to Riyadh, had returned without being received by Abdullah.
More diplomatic gestures continued throughout the visit, such as a lavish ceremony for Gül at the airport by his counterpart and accommodation in teh foreign minister’s guesthouse, a courtesy normally extended to heads of state, diplomatic sources told the TDN.
Political content goes parallel with gestures:
The diplomatic gestures also went hand-in-hand with an expressed desire of common action on regional problems and issues.
The two sides have said that their immediate concern was the Middle East peace process, as concrete moves there would have an overall effect on the volatile region.
But the most concrete prospect of cooperation was over the Turkish support of a Saudi-initiated plan that pledged to Israel recognition by seven states in exchange for its working with the new Hamas-al-Fatah government expected to form in Palestine by the start of the foreign ministers meeting. The Jewish state categorically refused to recognize or work with the Hamas government that was established after the election in January 2006. The Hamas government could not survive under the economic embargoes and sought a coalition partner in al-Fatah in a move for international acceptance.
Gül delivered a personal message from Erdoğan to King Abdullah in support of the plan and said Turkey, which has strong diplomatic ties with Israel, would seek to obtain the Jewish state’s support.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been regional rivals in the past due to the balance of power and the state systems of the two countries are also different. Turkey is a secular republican country while Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by Shariah law. The two countries have also pursued different policies on the U.S. military action in Iraq.
But their relationship improved when the AKP came to power and the visit of King Abdullah was seen as the beginning of a new chapter in Turkish-Saudi relations.