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Egypt and Turkey hold two days of talks to mend rift

Two-day discussions, headed by deputy foreign ministers and starting on Wednesday, are the highest-level talks since 2013
Relations between Egypt and Turkey have been strained since Sisi (R) led the army coup that toppled Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi, an ally of Erdogan's (L), in 2013 (AFP)

Turkey and Egypt were set to try to improve strained ties at talks starting in Cairo on Wednesday. The talks follow an eight-year rift, which has seen them back rival factions in Libya's war and put them at odds in a dispute over eastern Mediterranean waters.

Relations between the two regional heavyweights have been strained since the Egyptian army, led by then military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, toppled democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, had been a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The two-day consultation will be headed by deputy foreign ministers and are the first at that level since 2013, when both countries expelled ambassadors, Turkish officials said. The talks will cover trade, energy cooperation and maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean, a senior Turkish official said.

"These exploratory discussions will focus on the necessary steps that may lead towards the normalisation of relations between the two countries, bilaterally and in the regional context," a joint statement said.

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Mutual trade is worth close to $5bn annually, despite the political rift.

"Turkey and Egypt are the region's powerful countries, and there are many areas where they can act together and cooperate," said a senior Turkish official.

Regional repercussions

A thaw in ties between the two countries could have repercussions around the Mediterranean. They have backed rival sides in the war in Libya and sealed conflicting maritime deals with other coastal states.

Cairo has said Ankara's actions "must show alignment with Egyptian principles" to normalise ties.

Turkey is working on building bridges with US-allied Arab states after years of political rivalry and military interventions that demonstrated Ankara's influence but strained its alliances in the Arab world.

Two Egyptian security sources said their country's officials would not agree to Turkish proposals for restoring relations before consulting Egypt’s leadership. 

The two countries' foreign ministers spoke by phone in early April and Ankara said that intelligence chiefs had also been in contact. 

In March, Turkey asked Istanbul-based Egyptian opposition TV channels to tone down criticism of Sisi, adding that Egypt-based media would also be expected to "adhere to calm". The Turkish official said that Ankara did not want the broadcasts to cause problems.

Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said last week that rapprochement could help end the war in Libya, where Turkish troops supported the Tripoli-based government in repelling an attack from eastern forces backed by Egypt and Russia.