Turkey, Qatar vow joint push to reopen Kabul airport
Turkey, Qatar vow joint push to reopen Kabul airport
TURKISH President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and wife Emine Erdogan being welcomed by a Qatari official upon their arrival in Doha on Monday. — AFP

DOHA: Turkey and Qatar on Monday raised the possibility of jointly operating Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled airport, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set off for two days of talks in Doha.“We are going to act together,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a joint press briefing with his Qatari counterpart ahead of Erdogan’s arrival.

“Qatar and Turkey are continuously working with the interim government in Afghanistan to reach an agreement to open the airport (so it can function) normally,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani added.

Erdogan’s visit comes as Turkey seeks to rebuild relations with former rivals in the energy-rich Gulf region, including the United Arab Emirates, whose crown prince last month visited Turkey for the first time since 2012.

Simmering tensions between Ankara and its Gulf rivals escalated after a Saudi Arabia-led blockade on Qatar by Arab countries in 2017.

Ankara backed Qatar in the dispute, and the two countries have grown closer ever since.

Erdogan, whose country is reeling from a fresh economic crisis and is searching foreign investment and trade, said he wanted to use the trip to foster closer relations with all Gulf states.

“We are in favour of strengthening our relations with all the Gulf countries,” Erdogan told reporters at an Istanbul airport before leaving for Doha.

“The blockade and sanctions imposed on Qatar have been lifted as of the start of this year. Right now, solidarity is being restored among Gulf countries,” Erdogan said.The two countries will sign dozens of deals during a visit to Qatar by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who also sought to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman there, according to two people familiar with the plan.

Such a direct meeting appeared unlikely this week, but could come soon, one of the sources said. It would be the first between the two leaders after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Erdogan arrived in Qatar, a key regional ally, as Turkey’s economy is grappling with an historic currency crash and soaring inflation following a series of interest rate cuts that he had sought despite widespread criticism.

At a news briefing in Doha, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had no plans to ask Doha for financial assistance. His counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said Qatar was looking at opportunities emerging from Turkey’s economic challenges.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed, widely known by the initials MBS, was due to visit Doha on Wednesday.

There had been discussions to set up a meeting between Erdogan and the Saudi prince in Qatar, said a Turkish official and a Gulf official with knowledge of the visit plans.

“The programmes didn’t align ... so it does not appear like there will be a comprehensive meeting this week,” said the Turkish official, who requested anonymity.

“But it is possible for this meeting to take place at a near date when programmes align,” the person said, adding there were “many opportunities for cooperation” as regional issues are resolved.

There was no immediate response from the Saudi government to a request for comment.

Saudi Arabia last year imposed an unofficial boycott on Turkish imports, as political tensions over the killing of Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, spilled into trade between the two regional powers.

After Saudi agents killed Khashoggi in October 2018, Erdogan had said that the order came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, although he did not name Prince Mohammed, who is Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

A US intelligence assessment released in February found that the crown prince approved the killing — a charge Saudi Arabia rejects.

Yet Saudi Arabia and Turkey have in recent months been working to amend ties after having been rivals for years over differences on regional issues and political Islam.

On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron held face-to-face talks in Saudi Arabia with MBS, becoming the first major Western leader to visit the kingdom since Khashoggi’s murder.

The Qatari minister said the timing of the visits to Doha by Erdogan and the crown prince was a coincidence.

Qatar’s Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar was ready for “heavily investing in Turkey”, adding it was looking forward to opportunities that may emerge from the talks.

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