Gulf reconciliation and ties with France discussed by Erdoğan and Hariri in surprise meeting

Arab sources expected the surprise visit of the Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to Istanbul, where he held a long meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to have raised the issues of Gulf reconciliation and Turkish-French relations on top of the crisis faced by Lebanon where no government is yet in place despite Hariri’s efforts.

Sources believe Hariri sought to explore the Turkish president’s reactions regarding recent developments within the Gulf Cooperation Council countries in light of the reconciliation between Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the kingdom of Bahrain, in addition to Egypt, which is not a member of the Council.

Erdoğan, they noted, has welcomed the declaration issued by the summit of the member states of the Cooperation Council (GCC) held in the Saudi city of Al-Ula.

According to the sources, the Turkish president wants to be a part of the Gulf reconciliation process, being the first supporter of Qatar in its policy at all levels.

In statements, on Friday, Erdoğan welcomed the reconciliation, saying that it would “be good for the region,” and that his country would directly benefit from it.

He stressed that “Turkey will strengthen its relations with the Gulf”, and that ” Turkey will return to its stature in the coming period for the sake of Turkish-Gulf cooperation”.

Ankara espouses a narrative that is supportive of reconciliation and tries to appease the Saudi leadership, in particular, in order to take advantage of this reconciliation opportunity and restore the Turkish-Gulf relationship to its status of before the Qatar crisis of June 2017.

Turkey is doing everything it can to escape a Gulf boycott that has further disrupted its economy as the Saudi investments in vital sectors such as real estate dried up and tourism virtually stopped.

In addressing the prospects of Turkish-French rapprochement, Hariri can count on his close ties to both Erdoğan and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The sources pointed to the Turkish president’s desire to tone down his hostile rhetoric towards Macron in particular and towards French policies, in general, as Turkey prepares to deal with the Biden administration, which is not friendly to Erdoğan’s policies and orientations.

In this regard, it is believed that Erdoğan prefers to achieve a rapprochement with Europe, including France, in order to avoid the emergence of a broad front against his policies, which include military intervention in Libya and threats to Turkey’s neighbours, especially Cyprus and Greece.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said that he had agreed with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian on a road map for the normalisation of relations between the two countries.

Cavusoglu said, “Turkey never wants to have bad relations with any country, and if France is sincere in this issue, then Turkey is ready to normalise its relationship with it.”

Turkey now feels the impact of France in placating its moves in the eastern Mediterranean and in Libya, so its aim now is to de-escalate the frictions with Paris.

The statement issued after Hariri’s visit drew attention, especially in terms of indicating that “the meeting, which lasted for two hours and included a working lunch, allowed for a detailed discussion of the latest regional developments, the multiple challenges and means of cooperation between the countries of the region to confront them”.

Hariri and Erdoğan also discussed relations between Lebanon and Turkey, and ways to support efforts to stop the collapse of the Lebanese economy and rebuild Beirut once the new government is formed in Lebanon.

Arab diplomatic sources believe that the inclusion in the statement of “the latest regional developments and multiple challenges” means discussion of the regional situation beyond Turkish-Lebanese relations and the role that Turkey can play in the field of reconstruction.

A statement issued by the communications department in the Turkish presidency stated that Erdoğan held a meeting with Hariri at Vahiddin Palace in Istanbul.

The statement added that Erdoğan stressed his country’s determination to strengthen its deep bilateral relations with Lebanon in all fields. It also underlined the importance of political stability in Lebanon for peace and security in the region.

Turkey has already shown special interest in rebuilding the port of Beirut, a concern shared by France, which built the port in the 19th century, while Beirut was still an Ottoman province.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Arab Weekly and reproduced by permission.)