ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday hosted Saudi King Salman at his presidential palace in Ankara, extending a lavish welcome that underlined the growing importance of Ankara-Riyadh ties.
Erdogan gave Salman Turkey’s highest honour for a foreign leader and praised his role in developing relations between the two overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim powers since succeeding his half brother Abdullah in 2015.
“The fact that Turkey and Saudi Arabia are deepening their cooperation in every field, with your support, is an opportunity for regional and global peace,” Erdogan told King Salman.
“Since the day you came to the throne, you made great contributions to relations between our two countries.”
After a period of tension, Saudi Arabia under Salman has emerged as one of Erdogan’s key allies with the two countries in particular sharing a common vision on the Syria conflict.
Erdogan greeted Salman at the vast new presidential palace with an honour guard of Turkish soldiers as well as 16 costumed warriors representing the various Turkic empires in history.
Mocked when they first appeared in 2015, the spear-carrying and mustachioed warriors are now regularly brought out for Erdogan’s most honoured guests.
Erdogan on Monday personally welcomed Salman off his plane at Ankara airport, in an unprecedented departure from normal protocol.
The awarding of the Order of State, the highest honour presented by Turkey to foreign heads of state, was only the second time Erdogan had given out the decoration during his presidency.
– ‘Invisible entente’ –
Saudi Arabia and Turkey both believe the ousting of President Bashar al-Assad is the key to solving the Syrian conflict and back rebel groups fighting his regime.
The talks took place a day before negotiations in search of peace in Syria were due to resume in Geneva with a truce largely observed since February 27 under strain.
Turkey and Saudi Arabia have already repaired the damage to relations caused by Riyadh’s role in the 2013 ousting of Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, a close Ankara ally.
In February, Turkey began hosting Saudi jets and military personnel at its Incirlik air base to join the air campaign against Islamic State jihadists.
Erdogan also backed Saudi Arabia in a diplomatic crisis with Iran over Riyadh’s execution of prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr in January.
Cagaptay said this showed the alignment between Ankara and Riyadh — now comparable to Turkey’s ties with NATO ally Washington — was “possibly now a fact of life for Turkish foreign policy.”
Turkey has found itself with few reliable allies in the Middle East following the Arab Spring and is also enduring a crisis in its relations with Russia.
“Ankara needs to find points of support in the region,” Jean Marcou, political scientist and research director at Sciences Po Grenoble in France told.
Salman now heads to Istanbul for the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Thursday and Friday.