Biden, economy behind Saudi-Turkey rapprochement -VoA

Economic factors and the election of Joe Biden as U.S. president are behind the thawing of relations between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Turkey, U.S. government-funded news outlet Voice of America said on Monday, citing experts.

Both Ankara and Riyadh are aware that the new U.S. administration will approach the countries differently, leading them to believe that the long-time crisis in bilateral relations is no longer sustainable, analysts said.

A meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in Niger earlier this month has signalled a thawing in relations between the two countries.

Çavuşoğlu went on to note that "a strong Turkey-Saudi Arabia partnership will benefit not only our countries, but our entire region,’’ in a Twitter post.

Ankara-Riyadh relations hit a low after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. The countries’ have been also at odds over policies regarding the conflicts in Libya and Syria.

"Turkey has economically terrible conditions at the moment, and Saudi Arabia has always been a life-breath for Turkey," Hüseyin Bağcı, professor of international relations at Ankara's Middle East Technical University, told VoA.

Turkish President Erdoğan’s unorthodox approach to the economy, including his refusal to raise rates and the politicization of independent government institutions such as the central bank, has contributed to a weakening of the Turkish lira, which has risen to record highs against the dollar. 

Moreover, the challenge of managing the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to Turkey's economic difficulties. 

"In the past, they invested and brought money into the country, so probably this also an attempt by Turkey to renew these relations, and to make some concessions," Bağcı added.

"One of the impetus [for Saudi Turkish rapprochement] is the arrival of Joe Biden," former Turkish Ambassador to Qatar, Mithat Rende told the outlet. "The Saudis should be prepared [for] a different treatment by the Biden administration...’’

The Biden administration is also expected to take a tougher stance against Erdoğan. The U.S. president-elect called Erdoğan an "autocrat’’ in January and is expected to take a stance against Ankara, particularly over its weakening of human rights and democratic norms, and could impose sanctions over Turkey's purchase of the Russian S-400 missile systems.

VoA pointed to the Khashoggi case as another example that suggested a thawing of relations between the Kingdom and Ankara, noting that last week’s hearing in the high-profile case, in an uncustomary fashion, drew no comments from Erdoğan or other leading AKP officials.