Although the Turkish president’s remarks contradicted the Saudi version of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, he provided few new details.
Erdogan’s remarks not only cemented some of the details about Khashoggi’s fate after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. They also explain the tense and complicated rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Thus far, the two countries have mostly refrained from publicly sniping during the Khashoggi investigation.
Erdogan’s remarks on Tuesday signaled something of a shift, amounting to a forceful, if implicit, criticism of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The Turkish president said the Khashoggi case had prompted several questions, including who had ordered 15 Saudis to come to Istanbul, why the Saudis issued so many inconsistent statements about the case, and why Khashoggi’s body was still missing. “No one should think that this matter will be closed before all of these questions are answered,” he said.
Erdogan “doesn’t want to rupture [relations] with the Saudi king,” Soner Cagaptay, who studies Turkey at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said. The Turkish leader “has decided to separate the king from his son, targeting only the crown prince regarding the Khashoggi murder,” he added.
Turkey realizes the young crown prince could be on the Saudi throne for decades to come. Prolonging the crisis could poison relations with the kingdom. (This is likely to be the message Gina Haspel, the CIA director, delivers when she visits Ankara on Tuesday.)
Erdogan’s speech was nevertheless “a real effort to tarnish and weaken Mohammed bin Salman,” said Steven Cook, an expert on Turkey and Saudi Arabia at the Council on Foreign Relations. Erdogan and the crown prince, Cook added, “believe themselves to be two of the most important [leaders] in the Muslim world.”
“Erdogan wants to bring him down a notch or two,” Cook said.