Who knew that Saudi Arabia and Turkey were such good friends?
The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 has sparked an international crisis that’s pitted the two countries—and their powerful leaders, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—against one another. But the tensions weren’t so apparent in a speech bin Salman gave this afternoon at a major investment conference in Riyadh. (He had been scheduled to give the speech yesterday, but abruptly canceled.)
Instead, bin Salman spoke of a close cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the Turkish government, and said those trying to damage the relationship between their two countries—whoever that might be—would fail. “Undoubtedly, the cooperation between the Saudi and Turkish governments is unique, and many are trying to use this painful thing to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey,” he said.
Bin Salman’s insistence on his country’s good relations with Turkey may seem odd, given that the two countries have clashed many times in recent years. Saudi Arabia is Turkey’s main rival for stewardship of the Muslim world, and an obstacle to better relations with the US. Saudi Arabia and Turkey are also on opposite sides of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, and have butted heads over Iran and support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Things between the two countries got so bad that, in March 2018, bin Salman referred to Turkey as part of a “triangle of evil,” alongside Iran and Islamic extremists.
But analysts say this shift in tone makes sense in the context of the ways that Erdoğan seems to be using the Khashoggi affair to get leverage over Saudi Arabia. In a speech yesterday before the Turkish parliament, Erdoğan declined to offer any audio or video evidence supporting the claim that Khashoggi was brutally murdered by Saudi security forces inside the consulate, even though Turkish authorities have said they’re in possession of such recordings. He also declined to name bin Salman, who has been accused of having knowledge of the assassination ahead of time, and instead focused on his country’s positive relationship with the crown prince’s father, king Salman. As Patrick Wintour, The Guardian’s diplomatic editor, noted:
The two leaders’ speeches, given one day apart, are striking in the similarity of their tone. Here is a rough translation of MbS’s speech this afternoon:
Undoubtedly, the cooperation between the Saudi and Turkish governments is unique, and many are trying to use this painful thing to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. I want to send them a message. They will not be able to do that, as long as there is a King Salman, and a crown prince called MbS, and a president in Turkey called Erdoğan. This wedge will not happen and we’ll prove to the world that … justice will be seen in the end.
And a passage from Erdoğan’s speech yesterday:
The Saudi administration has taken an important step by admitting to the murder. From now on, we expect them to uncover all those responsible for this matter from top to bottom and make them face the necessary punishments. … Personally, I do not doubt the sincerity of King Salman. It is very important for such a critical investigation to be carried out by objective, fair teams with no relations to the murder.
As Selim Sazak, a PhD candidate at Brown University’s Watson Institute who studies Turkey, told Quartz of Erdoğan’s speech yesterday, “The fifth card is open. The Saudis have bet the house. And Turkey has the upper hand.”