Is Erdoğan’s meeting with Saudi prince a good idea?
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will embark on a week-long trip to South America on Nov. 28 where he will attend the G-20 Summit in Buenos Aires and will pay official visits to Venezuela and Paraguay. Along with other world leaders, it’s probable that Erdoğan will hold a bilateral meeting with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the margins of the summit.
If it’s to happen, the meeting will come around two months after Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a group of Saudi high-ranking military and intelligence officers at the premises of the Saudi Consulate General in Istanbul.
When asked whether this meeting would take place, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu noted that the Crown Prince had requested a face-to-face call with Erdoğan in Argentina and that the Turkish President told him he would consider it. “At this point, there is no reason not to meet the crown prince,” Çavuşoğlu said.
In fact, there seem to be some reasons why Erdoğan should not be that keen in meeting with the Crown Prince. All the more interesting is the fact that these reasons can be easily spotted in the statements of senior Turkish leaders, including Erdoğan himself and the foreign minister.
President Erdoğan, in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post early in November, made it clear that Turkey knows that perpetrators were among 18 suspects detained in Saudi Arabia but also underlined “We also know those individuals came to carry out their orders: Kill Khashoggi and leave. Finally, we know the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest levels of the Saudi government.”
By ruling out any role of King Salman in this murder, Erdoğan had strongly implied that the order to kill might have been issued by the Crown Prince. Furthermore, the evidence, including the seven-minute long audio recording of the murder, provided by the Turkish intelligence and handed to prominent Western countries’ secret services had fueled suspicions over the role of the Saudi Crown Prince.
Yet, Turkey has always been very careful in not naming the Crown Prince as the power behind the murder but used all the means to let the others voice it.
The C.I.A. was one of them, according to the American press, which concluded that the order to kill was issued by the Crown Prince. In the light of this strong conclusion, United States President Donald Trump had to make a written statement, stressing “Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
It was, beyond dispute, Turkey’s success in creating, raising and sustaining the world’s attention on the brutal killing of the Saudi journalist through a well-designed communication strategy in publicizing the evidence collected by the Turkish law enforcement. Thanks to these efforts, the Saudi administration had to admit the murder and take a legal action although it’s far from being satisfactory in many ways.
In the light of all these, a meeting between Erdoğan and the Crown Prince, which would also produce a good photo opportunity for the latter, may lead to a number of questions and concerns over the continued investigation and prosecution of the Saudi journalist.
First is about the nature of the probable meeting. The Turkish public opinion, like the rest of the international community, sees the Crown Prince as the suspect in the Khashoggi case and Erdoğan’s meeting with him would plant different questions on the people’s minds.
Second is about the objective. President Erdoğan will of course repeat once again the unanswered questions over the killing to the Crown Prince and request solid cooperation but it would be very surprising if he would hear satisfactory explanations. It was Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu who recently complained about the lack of cooperation from the Saudi side and there seems not much reason why this should change now.
So, only hearing whereabouts the body of Khashoggi and other details on the murder would make this meeting a meaningful one.
Or perhaps, they would like to discuss ongoing trends in the bilateral relations as President Erdoğan keeps telling that Turkey wants to keep its brotherly and good relations with the oil-rich kingdom.
The third is about the timing. The prosecution is still going on in Turkey although the Saudi officials have already closed the case. The indictment to be submitted by the Turkish prosecutor will be a very important one and will perhaps name the Crown Prince among the suspects. It would, therefore, rather be better for Erdoğan to wait for the completion of the prosecution before seeing the Crown Prince.
To conclude, a meeting with the Prince would not be a good idea if the Turkish side is not planning to enter a new stage in its ties with the Saudi Kingdom in the post-Khashoggi era.