A Turkish court is likely to rule on Friday that the conversion in 1934 of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia into a museum was unlawful, according to two Turkish officials quoted by Reuters yesterday. Such a decision could pave the way for its restoration as a mosque, despite international concerns.
Given these concerns, there has reportedly been behind-the-scenes activity in recent days involving Washington, Moscow and Ankara.
At the same time, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer expressed Washington’s concern on Thursday about Turkey’s activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, noting that Ankara is aware of the US positions. With regard to the US government’s plan to make International Military Education and Training (IMET) available to Cyprus and Turkey’s objections, Palmer pointed out that it does not signal any change in US positions on resolving the Cyprus issue.
On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Cyprus’ inclusion in IMET will not help resolve the island’s division. “It is obvious that steps disregarding the balance between the two sides will not help create an atmosphere of trust on the island, and ensure peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said.
IMET is an elite program administered by the US Defense Department, while eligibility is determined by the secretary of state. It provides students from allied and friendly nations with training and education in US military practices and standards.
Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias on Thursday urged Turkey to settle its differences with Greece in a way that is consistent with international law. “Our limits have been made perfectly clear to everyone. Any attempt to violate our legal rights will be met with the appropriate response,” he said during a meeting with his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto in Athens. Dialogue, he said, “cannot take place under [the compulsion of] threats… and blackmail.”