Closer Turkish-Saudi ties

ANKARA (AFP) – Turkey has achieved «extraordinary progress» in ties with Saudi Arabia as part of efforts to warm up its traditionally chilly relations with Arab nations, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Sunday. Gul also said that Turkey, a Muslim nation with a historically pro-Western orientation, was aiming to attract billions of dollars of Arab investment, capitalizing on reported flights of Arab capital from the United States and Europe since the September 11 attacks. The minister told CNN-Turk television that «there have been extraordinary changes» in ties with Saudi Arabia since his visit to Riyadh earlier this year. He said exchanges between the two countries had increased significantly in recent months, referring to mutual visits by economy officials and private investors seeking opportunities to boost economic cooperation. «Very important trade agreements are about to be concluded,» Gul said. He did not give details, but hinted that one potential contract concerned the sale of armored vehicles from Turkey to Saudi Arabia. The minister said the two countries were also to sign soon a security accord and establish a joint association to promote cooperation between private companies in both countries. Gul also expressed optimism that Turkey, which is battling a severe economic recession, could lure Arab investors withdrawing capital from Western countries because of increased discrimination against Arabs after September 11. «They are looking for a new place to turn to. Turkey is very important in this respect, be it for the Gulf capital generated from oil, be it for tourism,» he said. Echoing the minister’s hopes, the head of a Turkish business organization said Turkey should capitalize on growing Arab «coldness» toward the Western world following the US-led war in Iraq. In remarks to the Anatolia news agency, Huseyin Uzulmez said Turkey could attract billions of dollars of Arab capital and urged the government to offer incentives to foreign investors and facilitate the inflow of foreign capital. Turkey’s tourism and textile sectors are the main focus of interest for Arab investors, he said. Despite their common religion, Turkey’s relations with Arab countries have long been chilly, sometimes even stormy. But the government of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) has signaled that it wants to improve ties with Arab countries.