Turkey’s good relations with Qatar may not be enough for Erdogan


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to Qatar – a country he considers a friend of inclement weather – amid the dramatic depreciation of the Turkish lira, the deepening currency crisis and popular fears a discount sale of domestic assets at home. The December 6-7 visit, which took place against the backdrop of Turkey’s efforts to break regional isolation and repair barriers with Egypt, Israel and the Gulf heavyweights, resulted in 15 bilateral agreements.

However, the agreements have little economic value, envisioning cooperation in areas such as emergency response and civil defense, diplomacy, culture, health care, religious affairs, the media and the academy. While such a result may have disappointed Erdogan, it hasn’t eclipsed Qatari investments in Turkey since the country’s currency crisis erupted in 2018 amid political tensions with Washington.

The most recent Qatari investment was in a $ 102 million zinc plant that opened on December 4 in the southeastern province of Siirt. The company plans to establish more mineral factories worth $ 500 million by 2023. Qatar has pledged $ 15 billion in direct investment in Turkey in 2018. In another gesture of support, Qatar tripled its currency swap deal with Turkey to $ 15 billion last year.

Speaking ahead of Erdogan’s visit, the Turkish ambassador to Qatar said Qatari investments in Turkey reached $ 33.2 billion, while Turkish investments in Qatar reached $ 32 billion. Turkish contractors have taken on projects worth $ 18.6 billion in Qatar, but their revenues are expected to decline as Qatar completes construction projects for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

But has the partnership generated economic gains commensurate with the importance Ankara has placed on it? Qatari investments in Turkey represent only 5% of the more than 400 billion dollars invested by the Qatar Investment Authority in the world. And the bilateral trade volume stood at a modest $ 1.4 billion in 2019, with Turkish exports to Qatar accounting for 0.1% of the country’s total exports.

At the same time, the defense partnership – marked by the Turkish military base in Qatar – acquired a new dimension with an agreement signed in March. The deal, which awaits ratification by the Turkish parliament, would allow Qatar to deploy 36 fighter jets and 250 troops to Turkey, using Turkish airspace and bases for training flights.

Given that Qatar’s arsenal contains French-made Rafale jets, some saw the deal as a response from Turkey to Greece, which has ordered 24 Rafale jets from France following tensions with Turkey. According to Greek media, Turkey is eager to familiarize its pilots with the Rafale jets, which the Turkish military does not have.

The Turkish base in Qatar was Turkey’s means of shielding Doha from tensions with its Gulf neighbors. The closure of the base was one of the conditions posed by the Saudi-led bloc to end the blockade it imposed on Qatar in 2017. The blockade ended in January, but that hardly means that the continued Turkish military presence in Qatar is now welcome in Qatar. the gulf.

In apparent recognition of these sensitivities, Erdogan delivered a rather sweet message during his visit to the base on December 7. “Turkey, along with Qatar, attaches great importance to peace and well-being in the entire Gulf region. We would never want to see tensions, conflicts and hostilities in these lands, ”he said. “All the peoples of the Gulf are our true brothers.”

Now that Doha is on the road to reconciliation with its neighbors, it is unlikely to advance its military partnership with Turkey on Qatari territory. Moreover, Qatar has long shown that it does not intend to prioritize Turkey’s foreign policy objectives. Despite close economic and military cooperation, Doha has diverged from Ankara on some issues.

More importantly, Qatar has been involved in energy projects with the Republic of Cyprus to the detriment of Turkish claims in the eastern Mediterranean. Last week, a consortium between ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum secured gas exploration rights in an offshore area, called Block 5, within the economic zone claimed by Turkey. The consortium had already started exploration work on Block 10 in 2018. Ankara reacted rather quietly at the time, but appeared to sharpen its tone after the December 2 clearance. “Turkey will never allow any foreign country, company or vessel to engage in unauthorized hydrocarbon exploration activities in its areas of maritime jurisdiction,” said the spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Doha’s strategic choices confirm its reluctance to share its foreign policy with Ankara. This attitude also manifested itself in the spring when Qatar refused to allow Afghan peace talks to move from Doha to Istanbul. Likewise, the Qataris abandoned a Turkish-language television channel project by Al Jazeera several years ago, annoyed by the restrictive media climate imposed by the Erdogan government.

After years of tensions with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Erdogan now wants to open a new page with Qatar’s neighbors, while maintaining military ties with Doha. He hosted the crown prince of Abu Dhabi during talks on fixing fences in Ankara on November 24 and is expected to visit in February. UAE leaders – eager to revisit ties with Turkey and Iran after falling out with the Saudis in Yemen – appear interested in Turkey’s defense industry, which has recently benefited from international spotlight on the impact of Bayraktar TB2 drones in various conflicts. As Erdogan visited Doha, Emirati officials explored opportunities for cooperation with defense companies in Turkey, including Aselsan, the largest.

Ankara is hoping Saudi Arabia will also melt the ice with Turkey, to avoid falling behind the UAE amid lingering problems in Yemen. Erdogan seems eager to turn around and shake hands with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Ankara has held responsible for the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Qatar had signaled that it was ready to mediate between Ankara and Riyadh after its reconciliation with its Gulf neighbors in January. And talks between the Turkish and Saudi foreign ministers in May, followed by the Saudi trade minister’s meeting with the Turkish vice president in November, show that an Erdogan-Mohammad meeting might not be far away.


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