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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Erdogan visits Jordan as Syria's neighbours rekindle relations

Prospect of an end to wars in Syria and Iraq presents opportunities for both countries

Jordan's King Abdullah II walks with Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, during a welcome ceremony at the Husseiniya Palace in Amman on August 21, 2017. Pool photo via AP
Jordan's King Abdullah II walks with Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, during a welcome ceremony at the Husseiniya Palace in Amman on August 21, 2017. Pool photo via AP

Turkey's president on Monday made his first visit to Jordan in nine years as once strained relations have been overtaken by common interests such as resolving the Syrian conflict and safeguarding the Muslim holy sites in east Jerusalem.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan received a red-carpet welcome from King Abdullah and other high-ranking officials at the Husseiniya Palace in Amman before the two leaders held talks on a range of issues.

The royal court said King Abdullah and Mr Erdogan underscored the need to continue co-ordination on areas of mutual concern as well as boost economic ties and investments.

Turkey’s ties with Jordan were particularly strained during the Arab Spring, when Mr Erdogan promoted his Justice and Development Party (AKP) — seen as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood by Arab nations — as a model of democratic Muslim rule.

Despite maintaining diplomatic, economic and cultural ties, the countries do not see eye to eye on several foreign policy issues, ranging from Ankara’s support for the Brotherhood and Hamas to its ties with Qatar and backing of hardline Islamist rebels in Syria.

Turkey was also seen as doing little to hinder the flow of foreign fighters to ISIL in Syria but that changed two years ago when it agreed to allow American warplanes to launch strikes against the extremists from its Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey.

Analysts say Mr Erdogan's visit also provides an opportunity for Turkey and Jordan to strengthen co-operation on the Syrian conflict as both countries share borders with Syria and host a large number of Syrian refugees.

Turkey is one of the guarantor states, alongside Russia and Iran, in the Astana peace talks that seek to bring an end to the hostilities in Syria, while Jordan is an observer.

The talks so far have resulted in an agreement on four de-escalation zones across the country, including one in southern Syria bordering Jordan.

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“What brings Turkey and Jordan together is the common challenges, whether they are the civil war in Syria, situation in Iraq, Jerusalem and the Palestine issue, the refugee problem,” said Murat Karagoz, Turkey's ambassador to Jordan. “We need to consult and co-operate more and subsequently find common solutions.”

Last month, when tensions escalated over new Israeli security measures at the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, of which Jordan is the custodian, Mr Erdogan condemned Israel and backed Jordan's protests.

“Turkey also recognises and supports Jordan’s special role in protecting the holy sites in Jerusalem,” Mr Karagoz said.

Mr Erdogan’s visit also coincides with the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

“Jordan and Turkey are good friends, and have deep cultural and historical and brotherly ties,” the Turkish ambassador said.

With a free-trade agreement in place since 2011, trade between the two countries rose to US$1 billion (Dh36.7bn) in 2014, before dipping slightly $835 million last year.

Fares Braizat, chief executive of the Amman-based research firm Nama Strategic Intelligence Solutions, said it was going to be "win-win for both countries" even though relations were not at their best in recent years, particularly during the Arab Spring.

"Turkey is a strategic player in the region and Jordan plays a key role in regional stability. Therefore, it is important for both to co-operate on regional security since both share borders with Syria,” said Mr Braizat.

“As violence levels have dropped in Syria and Iraq, Turkey and Jordan are also positioned geographically to play in an important role in the reconstruction, but that cannot work without political reconciliation.”

King Abdullah on Monday also held talks with visiting US secretary of defence James Mattis and discussed the Syrian conflict, the Iraqi war and the fight against ISIL, the Petra news agency reported.

Mr Mattis, who was on his first trip to Jordan since taking office, affirmed the US administration's willingness to increase its support to enable the kingdom to address challenges facing it, according to Petra.

Jordan is the first stop of a tour that will take Mr Mattis to Turkey and Ukraine this month, according to the Pentagon.