Saudi top leadership hosts Erdogan ahead of Syria talks

As Erdogan holds talks in Riyadh, his Prime Minister says in Ankara that al-Bab in Syria is ‘largely’ under control of Turkish-backed rebels.

Increasingly close

2017-02-14 15:38:59

RIYADH - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Saudi Arabia's top leadership on Tuesday during a visit to further strengthen ties as part of a Gulf tour ahead of Syria peace talks.

King Salman hosted a luncheon banquet for Erdogan, who arrived in Riyadh late Monday, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

It gave no details of their discussions, but said Erdogan also met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is defence minister.

The two Sunni powers have become increasingly close over the past year, sharing in particular a backing for the opposition in Syria's war.

As Erdogan held talks in Riyadh, his Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told his ruling Justice and Development Party lawmakers in Ankara that Al-Bab in northern Syria was "largely" under the control of Turkish-backed Syrian rebels after months of clashes with jihadists.

Al-Bab was the Islamic State group's last stronghold in Aleppo province.

Ankara has taken on an increasingly important role with Moscow and Iran as a powerbroker in the Syria conflict.

Analysts say the capture late last year by Syria's army of the country's second city Aleppo, backed by Russian air strikes, was a setback for Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The Gulf states have supported rebels whose struggle to oust President Bashar al-Assad seems increasingly fruitless.

In January, Turkey, along with Assad allies Russia and Iran, sponsored talks in Kazakhstan between Syrian rebels and government officials.

There was no breakthrough, but another round is expected in Astana this Wednesday and Thursday, before United Nations-sponsored peace talks resume in Geneva on February 23.

On Monday in Bahrain, Erdogan called for a "safe zone" in northern Syria for people displaced by the war.

The positions of Saudi Arabia and Turkey are "absolutely identical" on Syria, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said last week in Ankara.

He was attending the first meeting of a coordination council to enhance ties between the two countries.

Later Tuesday Erdogan will be in Qatar, with which Turkey has maintained strong ties for years. Qatar also hosts a Turkish military base.

While both states are united in their backing for rebels fighting Assad's regime, they also shared support for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

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