Saudi Deputy FM: Erdogan’s Visit Deepens Historical Relations

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Eng. Waleed Elkhereiji (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Eng. Waleed Elkhereiji (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Deputy FM: Erdogan’s Visit Deepens Historical Relations

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Eng. Waleed Elkhereiji (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Eng. Waleed Elkhereiji (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Eng. Waleed Elkhereiji said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Saudi Arabia extends the countries’ efforts to deepen their century-old historical relationship.

Elkhereiji expressed anticipation for continuous collaboration in the next five years, aiming to build stronger bridges and fulfill the aspirations of both leaderships ahead of the Saudi-Turkish relationship’s centenary in 2029.

In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Elkhereiji emphasized that one of the pillars of success in the distinguished relationship between Saudi Arabia and Türkiye is the business sector.

He highlighted the two nations’ integration rather than competition, pointing out that both countries strive to cooperate in encouraging direct investment and developing and diversifying bilateral trade.

Regarding the possibility of a Saudi-Turkish role within a unified diplomatic framework to extinguish the flames of war in Ukraine, Elkhereiji clarified that there is a convergence of views and perspectives between Saudi Arabia and Türkiye regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis.

This provides an opportunity for the two influential nations to work together in encouraging both parties to end the crisis.

Here is the text of the interview:

The visit of the Turkish President to Saudi Arabia comes amidst crises affecting the region and the world. What are the key issues that will be discussed between Saudi Arabia and Türkiye during this visit?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to the Kingdom is an extension of the efforts of both countries to deepen their historical relationship, which will reach its centenary in 2029.

Over the next five years leading up to the Saudi-Turkish relationship's centenary, the two nations aspire to continue building stronger bridges and achieving the goals of their respective leaderships and peoples.

The visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz to Türkiye on June 22, 2022, in response to the invitation of the Turkish President, garnered wide international attention.

The Crown Prince’s visit marked a significant leap in the development of relations between the two countries and resulted in notable successes and partnerships across various sectors.

This was followed by the signing of cooperation agreements, reaffirming the commitment of both leaderships to further enhance bilateral relations based on their historical brotherhood and serving the common interests of both nations and ensuring a better future for the region.

Sixteen agreements were signed between Riyadh and Ankara, with a focus on industries and contracting, as discussions increase about opportunities to enhance trade and economic relations between the two countries within the frameworks of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and Türkiye’s “Century of Türkiye.”

Will the current summit witness the signing of more agreements, and in which specific areas?

One of the pillars of success in the distinguished relationship between Saudi Arabia and Türkiye is the business sector. Both countries excel in complementing each other rather than competing with one another in this sector.

Saudi Arabia has abundant energy products and basic materials for industries that meet Türkiye’s needs, while Turkish products and the contracting sector find a favorable market in the Kingdom to meet its growing demands in the construction sector, in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.

During the past year, between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Türkiye and the current visit by the Turkish President, two investment forums were held, one in Istanbul and the other in Riyadh, resulting in several agreements aimed at supporting the business sector, expanding bilateral trade, and increasing trade exchange.

Both Saudi Arabia and Türkiye possess significant economic potential as members of the G20. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 presents promising opportunities for cooperation between the two countries in areas such as investment, trade, tourism, entertainment, development, industry, mining, construction projects, transportation, and infrastructure.

The Kingdom’s attractive business environment has successfully attracted 390 Turkish companies to invest in the Saudi market, with a total capital of nearly SAR 1 billion. These Turkish companies are active in several sectors, including construction, manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and restaurants.

Both the Saudi and Turkish sides are continuously working on developing and diversifying bilateral trade, facilitating trade exchanges, overcoming any obstacles in this regard, and intensifying communication between the public and private sectors.

This is aimed at exploring investment opportunities and translating them into tangible partnerships in various fields.

The countries are striving to collaborate in encouraging direct investment, as evidenced by the signing of an agreement in this area.

They also organized the Turkish-Saudi Business and Investment Forum in December 2022, with the goal of highlighting promising cooperation opportunities for Turkish companies in the massive projects that the Kingdom will undertake as part of Vision 2030. This was followed by the Saudi-Turkish Business Forum in March in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia and Türkiye, as two important nations in the region and the world, are committed to cooperation in all fields and mutual support for ambitious projects, ideas, and initiatives globally.

Türkiye has generously supported Riyadh’s bid to host Expo 2030 and has also supported the Kingdom’s efforts in tackling climate change.

Türkiye also welcomed the launch of Saudi Arabia’s Green Saudi Arabia and Green Middle East initiatives, as well as the implementation of the circular carbon economy approach introduced by the Kingdom and endorsed by the leaders of the G20.

Furthermore, both Saudi Arabia and Türkiye have renewed their commitment to the principles of the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement.

On another note, the role of the Saudi-Turkish Coordination Council aims to enhance and develop relations between the two countries in various fields, including politics, economy, trade, energy, agriculture, culture, education, technology, and military and security industries.

The Council held its first meeting in February 2017 in Ankara, and the second meeting is expected to take place in Riyadh this year.

Türkiye continues to grapple with an economic crisis compounded by the costs of the earthquake damage. Saudi Arabia has taken the initiative to provide humanitarian support and aid to the Turkish economy through a $5 billion deposit in March last year. Are there any further financial assistance or loans that Riyadh will offer to Ankara?

The Kingdom topped the list of donors in response to the earthquake that occurred in Türkiye this year.

Saudi Arabia directed generous support, as per the leadership’s directives, by launching a medical and relief aid airlift.

Additionally, popular donation campaigns were organized, and contracts were signed for projects benefiting the earthquake victims, amounting to over $48.8 million.

These efforts are ongoing, and undoubtedly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will continue to stand by its brothers and sisters in Türkiye, guided by its firm principles.

Saudi efforts will persist in supporting Türkiye and those affected in earthquake-stricken areas in southern Türkiye and northern Syria.

The Ukrainian crisis has witnessed numerous international mediation initiatives aimed at finding a political solution to the deadly conflict between Moscow and Kyiv. One of these initiatives was the Saudi initiative in late February of last year.

Given Türkiye’s geopolitical position in the Black Sea region, will there be a Saudi-Turkish role within a unified diplomatic framework to extinguish the flames of this crisis?

Saudi Arabia and Türkiye agree that resolving the crisis between Russia and Ukraine should be a top priority for the international community. They share the perspective that the crisis should be resolved in accordance with UN resolutions and international norms, in the best interest of international peace.

Both countries recognize that the current global situation is fragile and cannot afford major and complex crises like the one between Russia and Ukraine.

The Kingdom has presented several initiatives for mediation between Russia and Ukraine, while Türkiye has successfully mediated to maintain the grain agreement since the beginning of the crisis.

The alignment of visions and perspectives between Saudi Arabia and Türkiye regarding the Russian-Ukrainian crisis provides an opportunity for them to work together as influential global states in encouraging both parties to end the crisis.

How does Riyadh view the Turkish-Egyptian rapprochement and its impact on the region?

Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest supporters of improving relations in the region and among all countries in it.

The resumption of Saudi-Iranian relations and Syria’s return to the Arab League serve as evidence of the Kingdom’s efforts to bridge perspectives in the Middle East and make the region one of the safest in the world.

Saudi Arabia firmly believes that peace and security are top priorities and that true development in the Middle East cannot be achieved without reinforcing security and fostering exceptional relationships among regional countries.

The Kingdom has issued a supportive statement regarding the improvement of relations between Türkiye and Egypt.

Undoubtedly, Saudi Arabia sees this rapprochement as a new opportunity to create a better atmosphere in the region, as an important part of the push towards a secure Middle East.

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.