Middle East

Erdogan's visit to Qatar to yield deals but no MbS meeting

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A Turkish flag is pictured on a boat with the Ortakoy Mosque in the background in Istanbul, Turkey September 5, 2021. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

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DOHA, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Doha and Ankara said on Monday they will sign dozens of deals during a visit to Qatar by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who also sought to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman there, according to two people familiar with the plan.

Such a direct meeting appeared unlikely this week, but could come soon, one of the sources said. It would be the first between the two leaders after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Erdogan arrived in Qatar, a key regional ally, as Turkey's economy is grappling with an historic currency crash and soaring inflation following a series of interest rate cuts that he had sought despite widespread criticism.

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At a news briefing in Doha, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had no plans to ask Doha for financial assistance. His counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said Qatar was looking at opportunities emerging from Turkey's economic challenges.

Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed, widely known by the initials MbS, was due to visit Doha on Wednesday.

There had been discussions to set up a meeting between Erdogan and the Saudi prince in Qatar, said a Turkish official and a Gulf official with knowledge of the visit plans.

"The programmes didn't align ... so it does not appear like there will be a comprehensive meeting this week," said the Turkish official, who requested anonymity.

"But it is possible for this meeting to take place at a near date when programmes align," the person said, adding there were "many opportunities for cooperation" as regional issues are resolved.

WARMING TIES

There was no immediate response from the Saudi government to a Reuters request for comment.

Saudi Arabia last year imposed an unofficial boycott on Turkish imports, as political tensions over the killing of Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, spilled into trade between the two regional powers.

After Saudi agents killed Khashoggi in October 2018, Erdogan had said that the order came from the "highest levels" of the Saudi government, although he did not name Prince Mohammed, who is Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler.

A U.S. intelligence assessment released in February found that the crown prince approved the killing - a charge Saudi Arabia rejects.

Yet Saudi Arabia and Turkey have in recent months been working to amend ties after having been rivals for years over differences on regional issues and political Islam.

On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron held face-to-face talks in Saudi Arabia with MbS, becoming the first major Western leader to visit the kingdom since Khashoggi's murder.

The Qatari minister said the timing of the visits to Doha by Erdogan and the crown prince was a coincidence.

Qatar's Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar was ready for "heavily investing in Turkey", adding it was looking forward to opportunities that may emerge from the talks.

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Additional reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Lina Najem, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Gareth Jones, Bernadette Baum, William Maclean

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