Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in the United Arab Emirates Monday for the first time in nearly a decade, to revive relations that were long strained by regional disputes, Agence France-Presse reported.
Erdoğan arrived in the capital Abu Dhabi, where he was greeted by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, reported the official WAM news agency.
Turkey and the oil-rich Emirates have backed opposing sides in the Libyan civil war and in a Gulf diplomatic crisis, and they have sparred over issues such as gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
But those tensions eased after Sheikh Mohammed, the de facto ruler of the UAE, travelled to Ankara in November, the first high-level visit to Turkey since 2012.
That trip “marked the beginning of a new era in relations,” Erdoğan told journalists at İstanbul airport before leaving for his two-day trip.
The Turkish president’s visit to the UAE, meanwhile, is his first since 2013, when he was prime minister, and it is his first as head of state.
“We are planning to take steps that will bring relations back to the level they deserve,” Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey-UAE dialogue and cooperation are “important to the peace and stability in our region.”
His trip comes as the Emirates face a growing threat from Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who have launched several drone and missile attacks on the Gulf country, prompting stepped up UAE defense cooperation with the United States and France.
To greet Erdoğan on his trip, which will take him to the Expo 2020 Dubai world fair on Tuesday, the host country was lighting up the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, in the colors of the Emirati and Turkish flags.
Following Sheikh Mohammed’s visit in November, the UAE announced a $10 billion fund for investments in Turkey, where the economy has been reeling and inflation last month surged to a near 20-year high.
‘Peace and prosperity’
During this week’s visit, Erdoğan was expected to sign 12 agreements with UAE partners, ranging from media and communications to economic and defense deals, Turkish media reports said.
His trip “will open a new, positive page in bilateral relations,” Anwar Gargash, adviser to the UAE president, said in a tweet.
Erdoğan said in a weekend op-ed in the Emirati English-language daily Khaleej Times that “Turkey and the UAE together can contribute to regional peace, stability and prosperity.
“As Turkey, we do not separate the security and stability of the UAE and our other brothers in the Gulf region from the security and stability of our own country.
“We believe wholeheartedly in the importance of deepening our cooperation in this context in the future.”
Turkey-UAE relations were particularly tense after Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Bahrain in 2017 cut all links with Qatar, a close ally of Ankara. Those relations were restored in January 2021.
Erdoğan has since last year sought to improve ties with regional rivals in the face of increasing diplomatic isolation that has caused foreign investment to dry up, particularly from the West.
Last month he said he would visit Saudi Arabia in February, the first trip to Riyadh since relations soured over the 2018 murder of Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom’s consulate in İstanbul.
In the op-ed this weekend, Erdoğan said Turkey also wanted to advance cooperation with the UAE on several fronts, including tackling “climate change, water and food security.”
“I believe that both sides are eager to set new targets for further investment and cooperation,” he said, predicting benefits “at the regional level”.
Turkey-UAE trade topped 26.4 billion dirhams ($7.2 billion) in the first half of 2021. The UAE hopes to double or triple trade volume with Turkey, which it sees as a route to new markets.
About 400 Emirati companies operate in Turkey, the UAE’s 11th largest trading partner, WAM said.
Abdul Khaleq Abdallah, a political science professor in the UAE, tweeted on Sunday that the two countries should aim to bolster a “strategic political partnership.”