Saudi award to Turkish prime minister signals deepening strategic ties

A Saudi award to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his 'service to Islam' underscores Saudi backing for Turkey's bid to take a more activist role as a Middle East power broker.

Mohammed Obaidi/AFP/Newscom
Saudi award: Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan sits next to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during the presentation of the annual King Faisal International Award for services to Islam, in Riyadh Tuesday.

In a sign of their deepening strategic ties, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was honored by Saudi Arabia in Riyadh Tuesday night with a prestigious award for his “service to Islam.”

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz presented Mr. Erdogan with the 2010 King Faisal International Award, given annually to people whose work benefits humanity.

The choice of Erdogan to receive the prize underscores Saudi Arabia’s backing for Turkey’s efforts to consolidate ties with the Arab world by taking on a more activist role as a Middle East power broker.

His selection also undoubtedly was meant to signal Saudi appreciation for the more critical stance Turkey has taken towards Israel ever since the weeks-long Israeli military assault on Gaza that began in December 2008.

The Israeli onslaught disrupted sensitive negotiations between Israel and Syria that Turkey was mediating at the time, and Ankara felt double-crossed by the surprise attack. Since then, Turkey has been more outspoken against Israel, with which it used to have extremely cordial ties.

The award is administered by the King Faisal Foundation, a philanthropy named for the late Saudi monarch and run by his descendants, who include Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and former Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al Faisal.

There were seven other award recipients this years in such fields as medicine, mathematics, and Arabic language studies. Nine past winners have gone on to win Nobel Prizes for the same work recognized by the King Faisal International Prize.

In his acceptance speech, Erdogan said that it was “a distinct pleasure for me to receive the King Faisal Award on behalf of my country and my people."

Earlier, at a press conference, Erdogan threw cold water on US efforts to garner international support for tighter economic sanctions on Iran because of its apparent pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.

"I don't believe that any further sanctions will yield results," he said. Earlier rounds of sanctions "have never yielded results." The Turkish premier said he favored continuing negotiations instead.

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