Saudi crown prince visits Turkey for first time since Khashoggi murder


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will hold one-on-one talks with Mohammed bin Salman aimed at repairing damaged ties.

Mr Erdogan once indirectly accused the prince of ordering Saudi agents to kill Khashoggi. He denied any involvement.

The visit comes as Turkey seeks trade, investment and assistance to help it deal with a worsening economic crisis.

It has also worked to improve relations with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel after years of tensions.

Prince Mohammed meanwhile wants to end his international isolation.

Khashoggi, a US-based Washington Post columnist and prominent critic of Prince Mohammed, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, where he had gone to get papers needed to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

A UN investigator concluded that he was “brutally slain” by a 15-strong team of Saudi agents sent from Riyadh, and that his body was dismembered. She made that judgement after listening to purported audio recordings of conversations inside the consulate made by Turkish intelligence.

While Mr Erdogan did not directly accuse Prince Mohammed, he claimed he knew the order to kill Khashoggi “came from the highest levels of the Saudi government”.

US intelligence agencies concluded that the crown prince had approved an operation to capture or kill Khashoggi.

Saudi prosecutors blamed “rogue” agents and said the prince had no knowledge of the operation.

A year after the killing, a Saudi court found five unnamed people guilty of directly participating in the killing and handed them death sentences that were later commuted to 20-year prison terms, while three others were jailed for seven to 10 years for covering up the crime.

President Erdogan said last week that his talks in Ankara with Prince Mohammed – who is Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader – would focus on advancing relations between the regional powers to a “much higher level”.

A senior Turkish official told Reuters news agency that the visit was expected to bring “a full normalisation and a restoration of the pre-crisis period”, with the two leaders signing agreements on energy, economy and security.

But Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), criticised Mr Erdogan for inviting Prince Mohammed and choosing to “embrace the man who ordered the killing” of Khashoggi.

In April, Mr Erdogan flew to Saudi Arabia and publicly embraced the prince, as their countries began what he called a “new period of co-operation”.

That visit came three weeks after a court in Istanbul stopped the trial in absentia of 26 Saudi nationals, including two of the crown prince’s aides, accused over the Khashoggi murder.

The judge said the case would be handed over to judicial authorities in Saudi Arabia, which had refused to extradite the suspects.

The move was denounced as a whitewash by human rights activists and Khashoggi’s fiancée, who vowed to continue her fight for justice.