ANKARA (AFP) — Turkey on Friday said it had established its first diplomatic contacts with Egypt since 2013 and was ready to improve relations with other rivals as it seeks to break its isolation.
Ankara and Cairo had a dramatic falling out when Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ousted the Turkish-backed Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi.
The two regional powers have since sparred over a range of issues and found themselves on opposite sides of the war in Libya.
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been extending olive branches to his rivals in the face of potential sanctions from the European Union and a tough new diplomatic line from US President Joe Biden.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu first signaled earlier this month that Ankara was prepared to negotiate a new maritime agreement for the eastern Mediterranean with Cairo.
He told Turkish state media on Friday that the two countries have now made “contacts both at the level of intelligence and foreign ministries with Egypt.”
Erdogan later told reporters that he wanted these initial discussions to lay the groundwork for possible talks with Sissi.
“Our desire would be to extend this process and strengthen it much more,” Erdogan said after attending Friday prayers in Istanbul.
“Therefore, after these intelligence, diplomatic and political contacts yield result[s], we will take this to much higher levels.”
‘Principle of sovereignty’
However, an Egyptian official on Friday denied in comments to local media any resumption in high-level talks and pointed out that both countries already have diplomatic missions at the level of charge d’affaires.
“Upgrading the relationship between Egypt and Turkey requires taking into account the legal and diplomatic frameworks that govern relations between countries on the basis of respecting the principle of sovereignty and the requirements of Arab national security,” the unnamed official added.
Emerging markets economist Timothy Ash of BlueBay Asset Management said Turkey’s shift on Egypt represented “an absolutely incredible turnaround for Erdogan.”
“[It shows] the new world order under Biden, or a return to something more familiar,” Ash said in a note.
Biden’s administration has assumed a much tougher posture with Erdogan than Ankara enjoyed when Donald Trump was in the White House.
Turkey and Egypt expelled each others’ ambassadors and downgraded their relations in 2013.
Erdogan has repeatedly referred to Sissi as a “putchist president” he holds responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians.
But the strong-willed Turkish leader has said little about Sissi of late while toning down his language on a range of international affairs.
Turkey’s resumption of talks with Egypt could potentially worry Greece.
Athens last year signed a maritime agreement with Cairo that laid claim to some eastern Mediterranean waters covered in a separate pact Turkey struck with Libya around the same time.
Turkey and Greece resumed the first direct talks over the dispute in nearly five years in Istanbul in January and are set to continue them next Tuesday in Athens.
Cavusoglu said on Friday that Turkey was also ready to improve relations with the United Arab Emirates — one of its biggest rivals in the Arab world — as well as Saudi Arabia.
“We have been seeing more positive messages lately from Abu Dhabi,” he said.
“We have had no problems with them anyway, but they have had a problem with us. We are now seeing a more moderate approach from them.”
Turkey’s relations with Saudi Arabia deteriorated sharply after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate in 2018.
But Cavusoglu said on Friday that Turkey was not treating the death as a “bilateral issue.”
“We see no reason not to improve relations with Saudi Arabia,” he added.
A Turkish court trying 26 Saudi suspects in absentia for Khashoggi’s murder this month refused to admit a US report blaming the kingdom’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing.
The declassified US report said Washington had grounds to conclude that Prince Mohammed “approved” the operation since it fit a pattern of him “using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad.”