Erdoğan says Saudi Arabia wants to buy armed drones from Turkey

Erdoğan said on March 16 that Saudi Arabia has demanded to buy Turkish military drones, while also voicing his criticism at the kingdom's decision to conduct joint air exercises with Greece. Erdoğan's comments came as Turkey been trying in the past few months to improve its relations with regional rivals across the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Erdoğan (L) meets with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2017 in this file photo.

Duvar English - Reuters 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on March 16 that Saudi Arabia is seeking to buy armed unmanned aerial vehicles from Turkey, after years of tension between the two regional powers.

Ties with Riyadh have been strained over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Trade has collapsed under an informal Saudi boycott, but both countries have said they will work to improve relations.

Speaking at a joint news conference with members of the Presidential Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the capital Ankara, Erdoğan criticized a recent joint drill between Saudi Arabia and Greece, which is locked in a dispute with Ankara over maritime jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean.

"Saudi Arabia is conducting joint exercises with Greece," Erdoğan said. 

"But on the other hand, right now there is a request from Saudi Arabia for armed UAVs from Turkey. Those are the latest developments," he said, without elaborating.

Erdoğan had last week expressed his “regret” over the joint Greek-Saudi military exercise. “I regret that Saudi Arabia is conducting joint military exercises with Greece,” Erdoğan had said on March 12. 

Several countries have in recent years shown interest in Turkish-made drones, which were effective in regional conflicts, such as Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Turkey's hopes of easing tensions with Saudi Arabia are part of a wider regional effort. Ankara has repeatedly said it also sees prospects to improve relations with Egypt, strained since the Egyptian army toppled a Muslim Brotherhood president close to Erdogan in 2013.

Erdoğan and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said last week Turkey had resumed diplomatic contacts with Egypt and wants further cooperation. Cairo said Turkey's actions "must show alignment with Egyptian principles" to normalize ties.

The two countries back rival sides in the Libyan conflict, and in the eastern Mediterranean. Egypt signed a maritime agreement with Greece which angered Turkey.

Erdoğan said recent steps taken by Cairo in the region were the "manifestation of a temporary mistake," but that he believed the Egyptian people would not oppose Turkey's stance in the eastern Mediterranean.