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Turkey says better ties with Cairo could boost Libya peace efforts

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Erdogan attends a Climate Summit video conference in Ankara

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish talks with Egypt next week could forge renewed cooperation between the estranged regional powers and help efforts to end the war in Libya, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said.

Relations have been strained since Egypt’s army toppled a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president close to Turkey in 2013 in what Ankara said was a military coup.

Recently, however, Turkey has begun working to rebuild ties with Egypt and Gulf Arab states, trying to overcome differences which have left Ankara increasingly isolated in the Arab world.

Intelligence chiefs as well as foreign ministers of both countries have been in contact, and a Turkish diplomatic mission will visit Egypt in early May, Erdogan’s spokesman and adviser Ibrahim Kalin told Reuters in an interview.

“Given the realities on the ground I think it’s in the interests of both countries and the region to normalise relations with Egypt,” he said.

In a gesture to Cairo last month, Turkey asked Egyptian opposition television channels operating on its territory to moderate criticism of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, the former military chief who toppled Morsi.

Egypt welcomed the move but has been publicly cautious about Turkish calls for better ties between the two countries which have also supported rival sides in Libya’s conflict.

“Rapprochement with Egypt…will certainly help the security situation in Libya because we fully understand that Egypt has a long border with Libya and that may sometimes pose a security threat for Egypt,” Kalin said.

He said Turkey would discuss security in Libya, where a United Nations-backed transitional government took over last month, with Egypt and other countries.

But despite a U.N. call for all foreign forces to leave the country, he indicated that Turkish military officers and allied Syrian fighters would be staying.

“We have an agreement that is still holding there with the Libyan government,” he said, refering to a 2019 accord which paved the way for decisive Turkish intervention in support of the Tripoli-based government.

SHADOW OF KHASHOGGI

Alongside its Egypt initiative, Turkey has sought to improve ties with Gulf Arab heavyweight Saudi Arabia, which were thrown into crisis by the 2018 killing in Istanbul of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad.

Last year Saudi businessmen endorsed an unofficial boycott of Turkish goods in response to what they called hostility from Ankara, which has slashed the value of trade by 98%.

“We will seek ways to repair the relationship with a more positive agenda with Saudi Arabia as well,” Kalin said, adding that he hoped the boycott could be lifted.

In a marked change of tone, he welcomed the trial in Saudi Arabia which last year jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years for Khashoggi’s murder.

At the time Ankara said the verdict fell short of expectations and urged Saudi authorities to cooperate with Turkey where a trial in absentia of 20 Saudi officials is taking place – though only three sessions have been held since July.

Erdogan said in 2018 that the order to kill Khashoggi came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, and a U.S. intelligence assessment released in February this year found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the killing – a charge Saudi Arabia rejects.

“They had a court. Trials have been held,” Kalin said. “They made a decision so we respect that decision.”

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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