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Saudi King Visits Turkey in Sign of Improving Relations

by Dorian Jones April 11, 2016

Relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have deepened over their cooperation in the Syrian civil war and their concerns over rising Iranian power.

Saudi King Salman arrived in the capital Ankara with an entourage numbering in the hundreds. It is the first visit to Turkey by Salman since being crowned in January 2015.

Relations between the two countries have markedly improved in the past few years.

Visiting scholar of the Carnegie Institute Sinan Ulgen says the two countries' shared objectives over Syria are the main driving force behind deepening relations.

"The Kingdom has supported the agenda of regime change in Syria. Given that Turkey is finding it difficult to get additional support in the region for its objectives in Syria, the relationship with Saudi Arabia has become much more critical," said Ulgen.

Both countries are among the strongest backers of the Syrian opposition, and the conflict is expected to top the agenda of talks between the Saudi king and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential palace.

The deepening relations have extended to military cooperation with Turkish forces participating in joint exercises in February.

Steps are reportedly expected to be taken in formalize ties with the creation of a high level strategic council.

Economic ties are also on the agenda with a large trade delegation accompanying the Saudi king. Last year bilateral trade was nearly $6 billion.

Until recently Erdogan's strong backing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region has been a point of tension between the countries.

But international relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University says the improvement in ties has accelerated following last year's death of Saudi King Abdullah.

"Salman decided that the Brotherhood was not as a big enemy as Abdullah made them out to be. So there was some softening there. And I think the Turkish side convinced them there are common interests. And I think Iran just concentrates the minds," said Ozel.

Observers say both leaders are concerned with the growing influence of Iran in the region, which is predicted to continue with the lifting of international sanctions against Tehran.

Tensions are exacerbated by Tehran's strong backing of the Syrian regime.

But Riyadh's strong support of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi remains a thorn in relations with Ankara.

Erdogan strongly backs the deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and is a staunch critic of Sissi. Salman comes to Turkey after visiting Cairo, and observers say improving relations between the Egyptian and Turkish leaders is a priority of his meetings with Erdogan.

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