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King Salman with Turkish President Erdogan during their meeting in Jeddah on Thursday. Image Credit: Reuters

Jeddah: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Saudi Arabia on Thursday in the first high-level visit in years which he hopes will herald a new era of relations after intense efforts to repair strained ties.

Erdogan met with King Salman in an official ceremony in the Al Salam palace in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended the ceremony before having a one-on-one meeting with Erdogan, Ankara’s communication office said on Twitter.

Pictures published by Turkish state media showed separate sit-downs with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Prior to flying from Istanbul to Saudi’s second city Jeddah, where some roads were lined with Turkish and Saudi flags, Erdogan said he hoped “to launch a new era” in bilateral ties.

Erdogan’s visit, which his office said was at the invitation of the Saudi king, marks the culmination of a months-long drive to mend ties.

Speaking to reporters before departing for Jeddah, Erdogan said Thursday’s visit was “the manifestation of our common will” to improve ties and strengthen political, military and cultural relations.

He added it would be mutually beneficial to boost cooperation in areas including health, energy, food security, defence industry, and finance.

“With common efforts, I believe we will carry our ties even beyond where they were in the past,” he said.

Very positive atmosphere

A senior Turkish official said there was a “very positive” atmosphere ahead of the trip, adding: “The groundwork is ready so that we can act in unison on trade, investments and regional issues once again.”

The visit comes as Turkey grapples with the economic fallout from the war between its Black Sea neighbours Ukraine and Russia.

Diplomats and analysts say the overtures are needed to help relieve economic and political pressures after Turkey’s policies in Syria, Libya and elsewhere in recent years left it increasingly isolated.

This handout image released by the Saudi press Agency (SPA) on April 29, 2022 shows Erdogan performing an umrah pilgrimage in Mecca. Image Credit: SPA

“Erdogan is pragmatic and a political animal, and his polls may not hold up for a year unless he can boost jobs,” said a Western diplomat. “So he is partly seeking deals and funding in Saudi, and a swap line for perhaps $10-$20 billion would be something worthwhile.”

Erdogan’s arrival will be seen as a win by Saudi officials keen to turn the page, said Saudi political analyst Ali Shihabi.

“Of course it is a vindication,” Shihabi said. “Erdogan was isolated and paid a high economic price in massive economic losses resulting from an economic and travel boycott, which is why he is the one coming to Saudi”.

Both countries stand to benefit, he added, as Erdogan “needs the trade and tourism flows from Saudi, and Saudi would prefer to have him ‘on side’ on a variety of regional issues - and may be open to buy arms from Turkey.”

A Turkish official told AFP that Erdogan was not likely to make any formal announcement during the trip, which was expected to stretch into Friday.

Economic interests are “a major, major driver” of Erdogan’s visit, said Dina Esfandiary, senior Middle East adviser for the International Crisis Group.