Erdogan says Saudi Arabia wants to buy armed drones from Turkey

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting to announce an economic reform package, in Istanbul, Turkey March 12, 2021. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia is seeking to buy armed unmanned aerial vehicles from Turkey, after years of tension between the two regional powers.

Ties with Riyadh have been strained over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Trade has collapsed under an informal Saudi boycott, but both countries have said they will work to improve relations.

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara, Erdogan criticised a recent joint drill between Saudi Arabia and Greece, which is locked in dispute with Ankara over maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean.

“But on the other hand, right now there is request from Saudi Arabia for armed UAVs from Turkey. Those are the latest developments,” he said, without elaborating.

Several countries have in recent years shown interest in Turkish-made drones, which were effective in regional conflicts, such as Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey’s hopes of easing tensions with Saudi Arabia are part of a wider regional effort. Ankara has repeatedly said it also sees prospects to improve relations with Egypt, strained since the Egyptian army toppled a Muslim Brotherhood president close to Erdogan in 2013.

Erdogan and his foreign minister said last week Turkey had resumed diplomatic contacts with Egypt and wants further cooperation. Cairo said Turkey’s actions “must show alignment with Egyptian principles” to normalise ties.

The two countries back rival sides in the Libyan conflict, and in the east Mediterranean. Egypt signed a maritime agreement with Greece which angered Turkey.

Erdogan said recent steps taken by Cairo in the region were the “manifestation of a temporary mistake”, but that he believed the Egyptian people would not oppose Turkey’s stance in the east Mediterranean.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Dominic Evans