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Turkey's foreign minister to visit Saudi Arabia, a first in four years

Mevlut Cavusoglu to raise closure of Turkish schools as he attempts to mend ties in Riyadh
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu with his EU counterpart Josep Borrell (not pictured), ahead of a meeting in Brussels (Reuters)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu plans to travel to Saudi Arabia on 11 May, the first such high-level visit since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, two people familiar with the issue told Middle East Eye. It will be Cavusoglu's first trip to Riyadh in four years.

The visit was scheduled during a phone call between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi King Salman on Tuesday night, where two heads of states discussed bilateral ties.

CNN Turk reported that Erdogan complained about the Saudi decision to permanently close down eight Turkish state schools operating in the kingdom.

“The Saudi king didn’t give any reason for the closure, but Ankara believes the decision is politically motivated,” CNN Turk reported, citing sources.

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The report added that Erdogan’s chief policy advisor İbrahim Kalin made some high-level contacts with Saudi counterparts in an effort to defuse tensions that have kept the two regional powers apart in recent years.

Cavusoglu is expected to make attempts to repair bilateral ties during the visit, but the closure of Turkish schools will be a top issue, sources told MEE.

Last week, Turkey's education ministry said it has been informed by the Saudi authorities that the eight schools, which have a total of 2,256 pupils, will have to close at the end of the current school year.

Last month, the education ministry said there were 26 Turkish schools in Saudi Arabia.

Relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been at a low point since the murder of Khashoggi, whose killing is believed by the CIA to have been ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman himself.

Officials told MEE last week that even though Ankara wants to repair ties with Riyad, Turkey will not intervene in the trial against the Saudi operatives who are accused of murdering Khashoggi in the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in October 2018.

Saudi businesses have endorsed an unofficial boycott of Turkish goods, resulting in a more than 90 percent drop in Turkish exports to the kingdom. Late last month, Turkey raised concerns regarding the boycott to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Turkish exports to Saudi Arabia dropped by 94.4 percent year on year to only $11.25m in April, according to the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM). Exports have dropped from around $201m a year ago.

Ankara has tried to correct the relationship, with officials from both countries meeting last year after a personal intervention by Erdogan, who called King Salman to repair ties. However so far efforts to rejuvenate the ties have been fruitless.

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