Oct 24 2018

Erdoğan knows time means leverage in Khashoggi crisis – Newsweek

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan knows that time is very much on his side as an investigation into the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues, Newsweek’s Bill Powell said in an analysis.

Erdoğan readily agreed when urged by Saudi and U.S. officials including President Donald Trump to let a thorough investigation ensue before releasing final evidence, Powell said. Hence he did not “bring down the hammer” during a speech on Tuesday, as one U.S. official put it.

“U.S. and Saudi officials are said to believe Erdoğan when he says Turkish authorities have graphic evidence of the crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul,” he said. “This evidence may well implicate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and put his continued reign as de facto leader in Riyadh in jeopardy.”

The U.S., having backed the crown prince as Washington’s principal ally in the region, is now in an excruciatingly awkward position after the Saudis admitted to Khashoggi’s death in Istanbul early this month, Powell said.

Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish opposition member of parliament and now a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies said: "The Khashoggi affair has given Erdoğan the most precious commodity in international affairs: leverage."

Erdoğan wants Prince Salman removed, according to current and former diplomats.

"He's very serious about the reshuffle [in Riyadh]" a senior U.S. official briefed on Trump’s conversation with Erdoğan on Sunday said, according to Powell.

Erdoğan won’t stop there. He is also seeking to weaken an alliance between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, who have all sought to quash the Muslim Brotherhood movement that Erdoğan has so vociferously supported. The Turkish president has used that backing to expand his profile among Muslims globally, Powell said.

He is also likely to squeeze Washington and Riyadh on Syria, where he fears the United States will install a safe zone for the Kurds. Erdoğan has called on Washington to extract Kurdish fighters from the Syrian city of Manbij and to withdraw military support, saying the group in an extension of an armed group in Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Powell said.

“Diplomats believe Erdoğan will now be dictating a lot of terms if the U.S. and Riyadh want to prevent further upheaval in the House of Saud,” he said. “In diplomacy, a little bit of leverage is a terrible thing to waste.”