Saudi Arabia is seeking to buy armed drones from Turkey, said President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, in a move that could mark a rapprochement between the two rival regional powers.
Ties between Ankara and Riyadh have been strained since the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Trade has collapsed under an informal Saudi boycott, but both countries have said they will work to improve relations.
But speaking during a press briefing, Erdogan also voiced his displeasure at the kingdom’s decision to conduct joint air exercises with Turkey’s longstanding rival Greece, suggesting an agreement on drones depended on Riyadh’s future conduct.
“Saudi Arabia is conducting joint exercises with Greece,” Erdogan said.
“Yet at the same time, Saudi Arabia is asking us for armed drones. Our hope is to solve this issue calmly without getting heated.”
Turkey has emerged as one of the world’s premier makers of armed drones, which helped ally Azerbaijan make sweeping gains in a six-week war with Armenia last year over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkish drones have also been deployed to the conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Riyadh already has a technology transfer agreement with Turkey’s private Vestel company that allows Saudi Arabia to manufacture its own military drones.
But there is widespread speculation it is also seeking military deliveries that could circumnavigate arms embargoes some Western countries have imposed over its military campaign in Yemen.
A wider strategy
Turkey’s hopes of easing tensions with Saudi Arabia are part of a wider regional effort. Ankara has repeatedly said it also sees prospects to improve relations with Egypt, strained since the Egyptian army toppled Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi, who was close to Erdogan, in 2013.
Erdogan and his foreign minister said last week Turkey had resumed diplomatic contacts with Egypt and wants further cooperation. Cairo said Turkey’s actions “must show alignment with Egyptian principles” to normalise ties.
The two countries back rival sides in the Libyan conflict and in the Eastern Mediterranean. Egypt signed a maritime agreement with Greece that angered Turkey.
Erdogan said recent steps taken by Cairo in the region were the “manifestation of a temporary mistake”, but that he believed the Egyptian people would not oppose Turkey’s stance in the Eastern Mediterranean.