Turkey, Egypt resume first contacts since 2013

Ankara, March 12 (AFP/APP): Turkey on Friday said it had held its first diplomatic contacts with regional rival Egypt since President Fattah al-Sisi ousted the Ankara-backed Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

The two powers have sparred over a range of issues and found themselves on opposite sides of the war in Libya. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reached out to several rivals as he tries to break out of growing diplomatic isolation and faces potential sanctions from the EU.

The charm offensive comes as Turkey suffers from a wave of economic woes and faces a tough stance from the new US administration of President Joe Biden. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu raised eyebrows earlier this month when he signalled that Ankara was prepared to negotiate a new maritime agreement for the eastern Mediterranean with Cairo.

He told Turkish state media on Friday that the two countries have made “contacts both at the level of intelligence and foreign ministries with Egypt,” adding: “Diplomatic-level contacts have started.” Anadolu quoted Cavusoglu as saying that a lack of trust was normal at the early stages of the discussion. “For this reason, negotiations are taking place and continuing under a certain strategy, road map,” he said.

– ‘No problems’ –

Emerging markets economist Timothy Ash of BlueBay Asset Management said the move was “an absolutely incredible turnaround for Erdogan”. “Shows the new world order under Biden, or a return to something more familiar,” Ash said in a note.

Turkey and Egypt expelled each others’ ambassadors and downgraded their relations in 2013. Erdogan has repeatedly referred to Sisi as a “putchist president” he holds responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians. But the strong-willed Turkish leader has said little about Sisi of late while toning down his language on a range of international affairs.

Cavusoglu said on Friday that Turkey was also ready to improve relations with the United Arab Emirates — one of its biggest rivals in the Arab world — as well as Saudi Arabia. “We have been seeing more positive messages lately from Abu Dhabi,” he said. “We have had no problems with them anyway, but they have had a problem with us. We are now seeing a more moderate approach from them.”

Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia deteriorated sharply after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate in 2018. But Cavusoglu said on Friday that Turkey was not treating the death as a “bilateral issue”.

“They turned it into a bilateral issue, but we never accused the government of Saudi Arabia.” A Turkish court trying 26 Saudi suspects in absentia for Khashoggi’s murder this month refused to admit a US report blaming the kingdom’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing.

The declassified US report said Washington had grounds to conclude that Prince Mohammed “approved” the operations since it fit a pattern of him “using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad”. Cavusoglu stressed: “We see no reason not to improve relations with Saudi Arabia.”

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