US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Istanbul on Tuesday with Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Vartholomaios I, the first among equals in the Orthodox world, and visited the Patriarchal Church of St George, where he lit a candle with his wife Susan during his brief visit to Turkey which focused on promoting religious freedom and fighting religious persecution.
However, he did not meet with government officials.
“As leader of the Orthodox world, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a key partner as we continue to champion religious freedom around the globe,” Pompeo said in a message on Twitter.
Representing the patriarch, the Metropolitan of France Emmanuel said after the meeting, in response to a question about the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, that it was discussed but that it was not his responsibility to make a comment.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Turkish officials continued the incendiary rhetoric in reference to Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean, with Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, in particular, insisting that “the Greek Cypriots must abandon their uncompromising attitude and accept the existence of the Turks there as a sovereign and equal member.”
“We have said many times that Turkey will not allow the rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to be violated,” Akar said – in reference to the breakaway state recognized only by Ankara – adding that Turkish ships would continue to operate in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“We are determined in this matter, as are the Turkish Armed Forces, to protect the interests and rights of our people and our homeland, on land, at sea and in the air,” he said. During a visit to the occupied city of Varosha in Cyprus on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a “two-state” solution to the Cyprus problem.
Turkey’s stance has not been not lost on Brussels, with a high-ranking European Union official telling Kathimerini on the condition of anonymity that it is “going against the spirit” of de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean urged by the European Council in October.
Turkey’s behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean and the decision to reopen part of Varosha, a former resort fenced off and abandoned in no-man’s land in the northeast of Cyprus since Turkey’s 1974 invasion of the island, will be discussed during a Foreign Affairs Council video conference Friday, the official said, adding that the issue will also be discussed by the bloc’s foreign ministers on December 7.
The official said it will be up to the European Union summit on December 10-11 to decide how the bloc should respond to Turkey’s “unfriendly” actions.