Prof. Fahrettin Altun: With Qatar and Gulf tour, Turkish president Erdogan cements a new chapter of cooperation in trade, defence, and regional stability

Prof. Fahrettin Altun: With Qatar and Gulf tour, Turkish president Erdogan cements a new chapter of cooperation in trade, defence, and regional stability
In an exclusive interview, Turkish Presidential Communications Director Prof. Fahrettin Altun explains why Türkiye wants to solidify ties with Qatar and the Gulf states, as President Erdogan's Gulf tour focuses on regional integration and stability.
8 min read
18 July, 2023
Prof Fahrettin Altun [Supplied]

In this exclusive interview, The New Arab's Arabic sister publication Al-Araby Al-Jadeed (AAAJ)  sat down with Turkish Presidential Communications Director Prof. Fahrettin Altun to discuss Turkish President Recep Erdogan's visit to Qatar and the Arabian Gulf region. Türkiye continues strengthening its ties with the Gulf countries amid a wave of detentes in the region, promising a new page of stability and cooperation.

AAAJ: Turkish President Recep Erdogan's visit to Qatar is part of a Gulf tour following the Turkish presidential and legislative elections. What is the purpose of this tour, politically and economically?

FA: Türkiye has a very strong partnership with all the brotherly countries in the Gulf region. We have deep historical, human and cultural bonds and extensive economic cooperation.

The elections held in May have again proven our people's trust in President Erdoğan and our government. Now we have a lot to do in the period ahead. Further improving our excellent relations is among them of course. In this sense, it is a great pleasure to be visiting brotherly and sisterly Qatar.

Additionally, 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between our countries. We are pleased to mark this joyous occasion with such a high-level visit.

On the occasion of the visit, we also aim to come together with our Qatari counterparts and exchange views on our bilateral relations and regional developments and discuss the future steps to benefit our shared interests and the interests of our region. We will expand and reinforce Türkiye-Qatar strategic partnership.

AAAJ: Türkiye has been pursuing a policy based on normalising relations with the regional states and resolving differences for quite some time. What is the importance of these Turkish steps, and how did this reflect positively on relations with the Gulf states and regional issues?

FA: In an era of deepening geopolitical uncertainty and increasingly complex threats all over the region, cooperation and solidarity among regional countries have become much more critical. Close cooperation on important issues for our countries would also provide significant benefits for the whole region.

As the strategic partner of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Türkiye has always emphasised that the security and stability of the Gulf are as important to us as our own security and stability. Turkish-Gulf cooperation is becoming a pillar of Middle East stability and security. We share a vision of regional dialogue, integration and connectivity.

We welcome the new atmosphere of engagement and cooperation in the region. In this sense, we welcome Qatar and the UAE's recent decision about mutually reopening their diplomatic missions and Qatar and Bahrain's decision to resume diplomatic ties and direct flights. We also welcomed the Saudi-Iran agreement as part of the region's normalisation trend.

Those steps will be to the benefit of all the region and will bring an important contribution to regional security, stability and prosperity.

AAAJ: Turkish-Qatari relations are advanced in many sectors,including trade and economic cooperation. What are the most important agreements that will be signed during this visit with the Qatari side, and how will they be reflected in developing bilateral relations between the two countries?

FA: Türkiye and Qatar enjoy a unique strategic partnership. Our bilateral cooperation is outstanding. Economic relations with Qatar have already been robust in many areas. Turkish companies in Qatar and Qatari investments in Türkiye are all working in major projects, including finance, construction, energy and health. Bilateral trade volume between our countries has reached $2.2 billion in 2022.

The Supreme Strategic Committee headed by President Erdoğan and the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim is the most concrete outcome of our advanced relations. Since its first meeting in 2015, a total of 95 agreements and documents were signed in fields ranging from trade to military, health to international cooperation. Preparations for the 9th meeting which is set to be held in the second half of 2023 in Doha are underway. Thanks to our joint efforts in the work of Supreme Strategic Committee we are contributing to the completion of the contractual groundwork as needed. Likewise, a number of agreements which would help to move further our relations in various fields are also expected to be signed during the visit.


The Iraq nexus

AAAJ: Türkiye is counting on the quick trade route linking the country and the Gulf states via Iraq. How can Qatar and the Gulf countries play a role in the realisation of the road network and in speeding up its operation, and what is its strategic importance to the Gulf states and Türkiye?

FA: Türkiye supports the realisation of the Development Road Project and considers it a valuable means to support the generation of wealth, stability and regional integration. Iraq needs to undertake several strategic infrastructure projects in line with the expectations of the Iraqi people. The Development Road, while connecting the Gulf with Türkiye via Iraq, will in fact, help Iraq to reintegrate with its region. Development Road will be instrumental as a transit corridor in our region for the passage of goods and passengers. Türkiye would like to take part in this Project with the participation of its private and public sectors. We are also willing to cooperate with our brothers in the Gulf countries within this undertaking. Once realised, Development Road will not only contribute to Iraq's development, but will also provide sustainable and feasible connectivity for commercial products arriving at and leaving from the Gulf. We believe together with our Iraqi and all the Gulf brothers we can take this very big step towards regional economic integration and connectivity.

AAAJ: The military cooperation between Türkiye and Qatar is at a high level. What would you say on that?

Military cooperation is a very important pillar of the Turkish-Qatari strategic partnership. Our deeply rooted brotherhood is the main basis for this cooperation. Bringing together the unique capabilities of the two countries, enabling both sides to benefit from this partnership.

Turkish and Qatari militaries come together in exercises, Turkish military presence in Qatar facilitates mutual contributions to training and improving capabilities.

The defence industry is an area where we still have great potential to realise. It is a sector that brings together high technology, industrial cooperation and a special brotherly trust.

AAAJ: The energy sector is one of the fields that Türkiye relies on in its agreements with Qatar. Are there any new agreements in this regard? How does Türkiye face the popular and political criticism of this?

FA: The world is going through an unprecedented energy crisis. Europe has been at the centre of it, especially in the gas sector. This has caused unpredictability in the markets and turbulence in prices. Europe is facing significant risks for the next winter in gas and electricity sectors.

Energy supply security has once again become a major topic of the international security agenda. Qatar has been a key player in global gas supply. It has been a reliable partner and a responsible member of the international community.

Qatar-Türkiye cooperation in energy has always been strong. Qatar LNG plays an important role in our gas supply, which in turn contributes to Europe's energy security. Both sides have reaffirmed their will to continue and enhance this relationship.

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Detente with Saudi Arabia

AAAJ: Turkish-Saudi relations are witnessing rapid development. How does this rapprochement serve the interests of both parties? Can it help elaborate joint initiatives related to crises in the region?

FA: Türkiye and Saudi Arabia are two friendly and brotherly countries and share a strong political will to develop their relations in all fields. Thanks to the reciprocal visits by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on 28-29 April 2022 and Crown Prince Muhammed bin Selman on 22 June 2022, Türkiye and Saudi Arabia are in a new era of close cooperation. Relevant authorities on both sides initiated joint work to reactivate existing cooperation mechanisms and to exchange official visits. These contacts take place in areas ranging from, among others, trade, investments, contracting, energy, agriculture, health and defence industry. All relevant institutions on both sides exert joint efforts to explore new avenues of cooperation. The Turkish – Saudi Coordination Council, a joint cooperation and coordination platform co-chaired by Foreign Ministers of the two sides and organised with the participation of many Ministries and governmental institutions, is expected to be held in the coming months. The current visit by President Erdoğan to Saudi Arabia upon the kind invitation of King Selman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud will be another sign of strong and healthy improvement of the relations. 

Of course, this cooperation is not limited to bilateral relations. The two countries share a broader vision. At a time when our region faces geopolitical challenges, it is a necessity for Türkiye and Saudi Arabia to coordinate their policies. Cooperation between Türkiye and Saudi Arabia will also contribute to regional stability and peace. Both countries have a strong will to coordinate their policies on regional issues and in international organisations.

AAAJ: It is clear that there is a Saudi interest in Turkish drones, especially Bayraktar UAVs, and in the defence industry sector in general. Will we witness in the coming period Saudi Arabia buying these drones or even establishing participatory projects in their production in light of the talk about agreements between Aramco and Turkish construction companies estimated at a hundred billion dollars?

FA: The defence industry is a promising field for cooperation. Indeed, Türkiye offers state-of-the-art and combat-proven technologies and platforms. These platforms have been successfully in use in various countries around the world. Our defence industry sector is always open to cooperation and joint projects with brotherly Saudi Arabia. The contracting sector has always been at the forefront of our economic relations for decades. Turkish contractors have undertaken 375 projects worth $24 billion in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has excellent infrastructure projects to prepare the country for the future. Turkish contractors have proven themselves worldwide with their reliability and successful completion of the projects they have undertaken. Turkish contractors will make excellent partners in any projects Saudi authorities and companies have in mind.