Qatar-Saudi deal may ease ties between Turkey and Gulf

Qatar-Saudi deal may ease ties between Turkey and Gulf

It’s no coincidence that Turkey was one of the first countries to welcome the reconciliation between Qatar and Saudi Arabia on Jan. 4. Through a written statement by the Foreign Ministry, Turkey welcomed the reopening of land, air and sea borders between the two countries, expressing hopes of a comprehensive and lasting solution and that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) would lift all other sanctions against the Qatari people as soon as possible.

Turkey conveyed a more important message in the last sentence: “Being a strategic partner of the Gulf Cooperation Council and attaching great importance to the security and stability of the Gulf region, Turkey will continue to support all efforts in this direction.”

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the two most prominent countries in the GCC, severed ties with Qatar in mid-2017, alleging that Doha supported terrorism, maintained ties with Iran, permitted Turkey to establish a military base on its soil, supported the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement and more.

Following Kuwait’s painstaking efforts, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have now decided to reopen their border amid expectations of a more substantial agreement to put things back on track. Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s participation in the Jan. 5 GCC summit upon the invitation of Saudi Arabia’s leaders concretely symbolizes the reconciliation process between the sparring parties.

The special relationship between Turkey and Qatar and the former’s troubled relationship with the UAE and Saudi Arabia make this new development much more important for Turkey. There are many in Ankara who believe that the resolution of the problems between Qatar and the GCC will have a positive effect on Turkey’s dialogue with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. However, the process to be followed with each of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi will be different.

In recent months, there has been an uptick in efforts to improve ties between Turkey and Saudi Arabia. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke on the phone with King Salman on the occasion of the G20 Summit, while the countries’ two foreign ministers held in-person meetings on the sidelines of international summits.

Ties between the two countries nosedived because of the brutal slaying of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Kashoggi at the hands of a Saudi death squad in Riyadh’s Consulate to Istanbul in 2018. Despite all the accusations and criticisms, it should be noted that Turkey was very cautious in not turning the murder into a state-to-state matter with the desert kingdom. Also, Turkey has not invoked universal jurisdiction in its pursuit of the perpetrators, even though it said it would take such a step.

Relations with the UAE, however, are more complicated and difficult to resolve in the short run. At a press conference last week, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu described the UAE’s stance toward Turkey as “unfriendly” and he said he did not know why the country was pursuing such an anti-Turkey policy.

As was rightly hinted by Çavuşoğlu, the breaking point in ties with the UAE was the coup d’état in Egypt that practically killed the Arab Spring. Plus, Abu Dhabi accuses Ankara of supporting the MB although Turkey says it does not differentiate between MB-led governments and others. Today, the spat and open confrontation between Turkey and the UAE has spread throughout the region, from Syria to Libya and from Yemen to Sudan and Somalia.

However, the political situation is changing. Turkey is presently seeking to mend ties with Egypt and Israel, while the UAE and Saudi are resolving their differences with Qatar. An inter-Libyan accord is also proceeding well, fostering hopes of a peaceful resolution to a decade-old conflict. Plus, the new American administration will be very vigilant in its approach toward the Middle East and the Gulf as it prioritizes Iran.

In short, this new development in the Gulf could also have a positive impact on Turkey’s ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as the wider GCC, depending on mutual willingness.