President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday hosted Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (MBZ), as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) seek to repair their relations and increase economic cooperation.
The visit by the crown prince, seen as the de facto leader and the force behind the UAE’s foreign policy posture, was his first official trip to Turkey since 2012, and the highest-level visit by an Emirati official since relations hit a low as the countries have battled for regional influence and backed opposing sides in conflicts. The crown prince’s brother, the UAE national security adviser Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Nahyan, visited Turkey in August as the first major step toward mending strained ties.
A statement from the Turkish president’s office had said the two leaders would discuss bilateral ties as well as steps that can be taken to expand cooperation. They would also exchange views on regional and international developments.
Turkish officials described MBZ's visit as the "beginning of a new era" following years of hostility after Ankara blamed the UAE for financing the 2016 coup plotters in Turkey and undermining Turkish interests in Libya.
Ahead of the visit, one source familiar with the preparations for MBZ's visit stated that there has been an increasing Emirati interest in Turkish defense companies, which have established lucrative opportunities with domestic production capabilities in recent years. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and other Emirati companies are also reportedly interested in health care, fintech targets and other industries in Turkey.
Turkey and the UAE are expected to agree on investment deals during the visit, two Turkish officials also told Reuters earlier Wednesday.
"It is expected that some deals on the economy, technology, environmental issues, cyber security and logistics that are still being worked on will be signed," a senior Turkish government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A Turkish official familiar with preparations for the visit said deals could be agreed in the e-commerce, energy, and supply chain fields. Longer-term economic cooperation could come in funding and through UAE companies purchasing or establishing partnerships with their Turkish counterparts, the official said, predicting total UAE investment would ultimately be in the billions of dollars.
The memorandums of understanding are expected to be signed between the Abu Dhabi Development Holding (ADQ), Turkish Wealth Fund (TVF), and the Turkish Presidency Investment Office, as well as with some Turkish companies, including Kalyon Holding and CCN Group.
The two countries will also evaluate ways to cooperate in foreign policy. "Problems with the UAE are now behind us. We are entering a period based fully on cooperation and mutual benefit," the official said.
The prince’s visit to Turkey is viewed as part of a wider effort by the UAE to recalibrate its foreign policy following an unsuccessful attempt to isolate fellow Gulf state Qatar in 2017. Turkey, an ally of Qatar, rushed to support Doha amid an embargo imposed by the UAE and three Arab states. Turkey has since deepened its military ties with Qatar.
The Arab quartet at the time demanded a series of reversals by Qatar, including the expulsion of Turkish troops, but Qatar rejected the demands as violations of its sovereignty. The dispute was resolved earlier this year with an agreement signed in Saudi Arabia.
Turkey is also engaged in an effort to mend its frayed ties with regional powers, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Erdoğan had reiterated that Turkey hopes to maximize its cooperation with Egypt and Gulf nations "on a win-win basis," at a time when Ankara intensified diplomacy to mend its fraught ties with Cairo and some Gulf Arab nations after years of tensions.
Erdoğan said after his meeting with Sheikh Tahnoun in August that he expected increased investments from the UAE in Turkey. Sheikh Tahnoun’s visit was followed by a telephone call between Erdoğan and the crown prince.
The UAE’s state-run news agency said the leaders “reviewed the prospects of reinforcing the relations between the two nations in a way that serves their common interests and their two peoples.”
Erdoğan previously said that the countries, which have been at odds in several issues, have made progress in bilateral relations in recent months.
Turkey’s trade and finance ministers visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Tuesday, a visit that further helped set the stage for Wednesday’s top-level meeting in Ankara.
The two countries, which backed opposing sides in the conflict in Libya, had been bitter rivals for regional influence. Turkey last year accused the UAE of bringing chaos to the Middle East through its interventions in Libya and Yemen, while the UAE and several other countries criticized Turkey's military actions. Relations between Turkey and the UAE hit an all-time low when Erdoğan said that Ankara could suspend diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi administration after the UAE-Israel deal.
Turkish officials have said the UAE supports terrorist organizations that target Turkey, using the groups as convenient political and military tools abroad.
The UAE's aggressive foreign policy led it to be a part of a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that launched a devastating air campaign to roll back Houthi territorial gains in 2015, further escalating the crisis in the war-torn country. In Libya, Abu Dhabi backed putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar and tried to oust the legitimate United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). In Syria, it supported the Bashar Assad regime in its offensive against democracy and civil rights.