Eight weeks since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, U.S. President Donald Trump’s unwavering support for the kingdom’s crown prince has left Turkey in a bind, according to many experts.
According to a Reuters report, Ankara risks looking isolated as other countries put aside their misgivings and return to business with Saudi Arabia.
A prolonged standoff with Riyadh could also jeopardize Turkey’s own fragile rapprochement with Washington, if it forces Trump to choose sides between the rival regional powers.
Turkey’s dilemma comes to a head this week at the G20 summit of the world’s main economies, where President Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could meet, according to Turkish officials.
The report said that Erdogan has avoided talking about Khashoggi’s death in recent speeches.
“A meeting may take place. A final decision has not been made yet,” senior political source said, shortly before Erdogan’s departure for the summit in Argentina.
“Saudi Arabia is an important country for Turkey ... Nobody wants relations to sour because of the Khashoggi murder.”
Analysts say Erdogan sees Saudi assertiveness under the prince as challenging Turkey’s influence in the Middle East.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there was no direct evidence connecting Prince Mohammed to Khashoggi’s murder, and that any downgrading of U.S.-Saudi ties in response would hurt U.S. security.
That clear message from the Trump administration may be forcing Turkey to think again.
“Initially the objective was to pressure Trump to drop his relationship with the Saudi crown prince,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and analyst at the Carnegie Europe think tank.
“On the contrary, Trump seems to have decided to consolidate that relationship, and that’s why there had to be a reassessment in Ankara about how to manage this,” he said.
Ulgen said Erdogan’s priority was to safeguard the modest recovery in relations with Washington since a Turkish court last month freed a U.S. pastor who had been detained for two years on terrorism charges.
“Turkey doesn’t want to endanger the political capital that it earned in Washington. That’s the main motivation,” he said.
Saudi officials have insisted that Prince Mohammed did not know in advance about the operation, and Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir said last week Turkish authorities had told Saudi officials that they were not accusing the crown prince of involvement.
Saudi Arabia’s official news agency said trade ministers from the two countries met in Istanbul on Wednesday and would encourage Saudi investment in Turkey, and Turkish companies to take part in projects in Saudi Arabia.
Any change in Turkey’s approach would likely be gradual, according to another expert. Erdogan made no mention of Saudi Arabia when he spoke to reporters as he left Istanbul airport on Wednesday night.
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