Emir’s visit charts path ahead for Kuwaiti-Turkish relations

Emir’s visit charts path ahead for Kuwaiti-Turkish relations

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan welcomes Kuwait's Emir Sheik Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah upon his arrival in Ankara. (REUTERS)
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan welcomes Kuwait's Emir Sheik Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah upon his arrival in Ankara. (REUTERS)
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Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah this week paid a significant visit to Turkiye, where he met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Four aspects highlighted the significance of the visit. Firstly, it was the emir’s first visit to Turkiye since assuming office in December. Secondly, it was his first visit to a non-Arab country as part of his regional tour. Thirdly, it constituted the first head of state-level visit between the two countries since 2020. Lastly, it coincided with the 60th anniversary of the launching of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The purpose of state visits by leaders can vary significantly. While the general aim is to foster and strengthen bilateral relations, focusing on political and cultural issues, the economic dimension often becomes the central topic in discussions between leaders and their delegations. Given the lack of significant regional and political divergences between Turkish and Kuwaiti policymakers, improving business and trade emerges as the most crucial area for attention. Therefore, the memorandum of understanding signed between the two states during this visit included special emphasis on ways to enhance trade and investment cooperation, especially in the field of free zones.

As an observer of Turkish-Gulf relations, I can argue that Turkish-Kuwaiti economic ties have remained relatively modest, failing to reach their potential, when compared to Turkiye’s economic relations with other Gulf Cooperation Council states.

It is not surprising that economic considerations have been the major factor in shaping the new era in Turkiye’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are, by their very nature, multifaceted. There is certainly a desire on both the Turkish and Kuwaiti sides to improve this aspect of their relations. However, this depends not only on the two states' economic situations or commitments, but also on providing encouraging ground for the private sector.

There is certainly a desire on both the Turkish and Kuwaiti sides to improve the economic aspect of their relations

Sinem Cengiz

Turkiye and Kuwait need to implement a robust plan to increase bilateral trade, especially in terms of mutual investments in diverse sectors. In today’s uncertain economic environment, concrete steps taken by both Turkish and Kuwaiti investors are crucial for long-term success in their already cordial relations. In this regard, it is important to understand the expectations and requirements from both sides for mutual benefit and a clear path to growth.

Another significant component of the deals that were signed was the establishment of a joint strategic dialogue, serving as a crucial platform for coordination between the foreign policy institutions of both nations. This represents an advancement in the institutionalization of their political relations. Notably, both states maintain consistent positions on regional issues, particularly on the Palestinian question, which occupies their agendas these days.

Given its distinctive approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Kuwait has consistently backed Turkiye’s initiatives on this front, demonstrating their shared approach. Sheikh Mishal’s visit, therefore, came at a significant time that likely provided Kuwait’s new leader an opportunity to discuss with his Turkish counterpart how to end the ongoing war in Gaza.

Given the escalating tensions in the Middle East, Kuwait tends to cooperate with regional actors on security-related issues. The systemic pressures stemming from Israeli aggression, the ambiguous policies of the US and Iran’s expansionist strategies compel Kuwaiti policymakers to seek partners capable of addressing the country’s security requirements. Being a country that severely suffered from the Iraqi invasion of 1990-91, Kuwait has adopted a foreign policy line that is significantly shaped by its threat perceptions emanating from regional crises. In this context, Kuwait’s decision last year to purchase Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones for $367 million was significant.

During Sheikh Mishal’s visit, the two sides also agreed on defense cooperation through the implementation of a protocol on defense procurement. There has been ongoing cooperation between the Turkish and Kuwaiti armed forces for years. Annually, delegates from both armies come together to organize military dialogue meetings and participate in collaborative activities aimed at enhancing the security capabilities of the two countries.

Given the escalating tensions in the Middle East, Kuwait tends to cooperate with regional actors on security-related issues

Sinem Cengiz

Kuwait stands as a crucial pillar in Turkiye’s GCC strategy. The relationship between Ankara and the GCC states has undergone a significant transformation since the signing of the AlUla Declaration in 2021. Turkish policymakers now acknowledge that each Gulf state has diverse threat perceptions and visions. This understanding has led to the development of distinct cooperation agendas with each Gulf nation. Kuwait holds a particularly significant position in the considerations of Turkish policymakers, owing to its constructive role as a bridge during periods of tension between Turkiye and the GCC states.

Now, both sides need to leverage this positive history and improve other areas, such as economic and cultural relations, which can serve as a strong basis for the political dialogue. Turkiye aims to replicate the positive momentum it has established with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE in its relations with Kuwait. Defense and economic cooperation are the main tools to reach that goal.

We cannot be sure if the Development Road project, recently announced by Turkiye, Iraq, Qatar and the UAE, came up during the talks between the Turkish and Kuwaiti leaders, but it is certainly a significant topic for both sides due to their respective interests. Given the remarks of some Kuwaiti MPs and analysts, there is concern on the Kuwaiti side regarding the Development Road, which aims to link Iraq’s Grand Faw Port — adjacent to Kuwait’s Mubarak Al-Kabeer Port — to the Turkish border in the north. Turkiye could play a constructive role in easing the disagreements between Kuwait and Iraq over the project due to its good relations with both sides.

Turkiye and Kuwait’s mutual commitment to deepen relations, which was solidified during this week’s visit, reflects a shared vision for addressing regional challenges and leveraging opportunities for their mutual benefit. Moving forward, both countries can capitalize on their shared historical legacy to foster greater cooperation in practical, tangible domains.

Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkiye’s relations with the Middle East. X: @SinemCngz


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