Feb 16, 2022 - World

Erdoğan seeks reset in unlikely visit to UAE

Turkish President Erdoğan (left) is welcomed by UAE Crown Prince MBZ. Photo: Turkish presidency via Getty

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s official visit to the United Arab Emirates this week is aimed at laying the foundation for a strategic partnership between the two former rivals after several years of sharp divergence.

Why it matters: Erdoğan’s first visit to the UAE in nine years, which followed a visit from UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) to Ankara last November, is part of a broader effort to reset relations with countries in the region as Turkey tries to build its cash flow and end its diplomatic isolation in the region.

State of play: In the past several years, Turkey and the UAE have intervened on opposite sides in Libya, the Emiratis have criticized Turkey's role in Syria, and Ankara has criticized the UAE's intervention in Yemen.

  • Ankara also suspected the Emiratis of backing a 2016 coup attempt against Erdoğan, and Erdoğan's harsh criticism of the UAE's normalization with Israel pushed relations to an all-time low.
  • Despite all that, Erdogan's multiday visit, which began on Monday, had the sort of pomp and circumstance that might be expected from the closest of allies.

Driving the news: The two countries signed 13 bilateral deals on issues including defense, climate change and technology, and launched negotiations on a broader economic partnership. Turkey also agreed to sell drones to the UAE.

  • The countries are also looking to boost trade, which is already around $8 billion annually, in areas like construction, energy, transport, health care and food.
  • During MBZ’s visit to Ankara, Abu Dhabi earmarked $10 billion for investment in Turkey’s health care and financial technology sectors.
  • The central banks of both countries also signed a $5 billion currency swap deal last month.

The other side: Turkish opposition parties are criticizing the rapprochement.

  • Ali Babacan, who was previously one of Erdoğan's top ministers but now runs a breakaway party, criticized Erdoğan for the apparent U-turn on his allegations about the UAE's links to the 2016 coup attempt.

What’s next: Two senior Turkish officials arrive in Israel on Wednesday to pave the way for Israeli President Isaac Herzog's upcoming visit to Ankara, which is planned for March 9. It will be the first such visit in 15 years.

Worth noting: Turkish intelligence claimed last week to have thwarted an Iranian attempt to kill an Israeli Turkish businessman.

  • The alleged Iranian plot is seen by some in the Turkish government as a reaction to Turkey’s efforts to improve relations with the UAE and Israel.
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