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12-07-2011 - Reuters

Turkish foreign minister visits Saudi Arabia

A revival of Turkish influence in the Middle East and North Africa is a changed dynamic in a region cast into turmoil by the "Arab Spring" popular uprisings.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit Iran on Sunday after holding talks in Saudi Arabia focused on turmoil in the region, notably in Syria, a Turkish official said.

 

Davutoglu had been expected to return to Turkey on Sunday after meeting his Saudi counterpart, but now intends to carry out a whirlwind tour of regional hotspots before heading home late on Tuesday, the official said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said discussions would cover the unrest in Syria, the neighbour that Turkey worries about most, and other Arab states like Bahrain, where Turkey has offered advice to defuse sectarian tensions, and touch on developments in Libya as well.

 

"It's just a sort of stock-taking, and an opportunity to transmit our thoughts on these issues," Unal said.

State-run Anatolian news agency said Davutoglu was meeting Saudi King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

 

He was due to hold talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in Tehran late on Sunday, and with other Iranian leaders on Monday.

 

Aside from Saudi Arabia and Iran, Davutoglu could also visit Egypt, Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria over the coming two days but the itinerary had not yet been fixed, it said.

Istanbul hosts a contact group meeting on Libya on Friday that will bring together foreign ministers from Western powers, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and representatives of the Libyan opposition, to map out the future and avoid instability after Gaddafi's eventual departure.

 

A revival of Turkish influence in the Middle East and North Africa is another changed dynamic in a region cast into turmoil by the "Arab Spring" popular uprisings.

Davutoglu and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan have urged embattled Arab leaders like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to make the urgent reforms their people are demanding, or risk being swept away.

Syria's instability represents the greatest worry for Turkey, as the two countries share a long border and a similar sectarian and ethnic make-up.

 

A major Muslim partner in NATO and a candidate for EU membership, Turkey's foreign policy has moved away from being almost solely Western facing in recent years and actively engaged fellow Muslim countries and former Cold War adversaries in the old Soviet bloc.

 

At the same time, Turkey has developed burgeoning trade ties with its eastern neighbours.

Over the past decade the ruling AK Party, a socially conservative party with roots in political Islam, has broken the dominance of Turkey's powerful military, and the country is widely regarded as an example for other Muslim countries trying to make a transition to democracy.

 

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