Vartholomaios meets Obama in Istanbul

US President Barack Obama yesterday received Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios for brief talks in his hotel in Istanbul, a visit that disappointed Greeks who had hoped Obama would visit the Patriarchate in Istanbul’s Phanar district. Vartholomaios himself gave out a positive message after the talks, which lasted 15 minutes, describing Obama as «very simple, very friendly and humble» and said he «noted the existence of good will but also difficulties due political implications.» The patriarch said he thanked the US president for his appeal to Ankara to reopen the Halki Orthodox Seminary near Istanbul and explained to Obama the significance of the school’s operation. «This institution must be permitted to produce new officials and fulfill its great mission, continuing the dialogue we have commenced in the last 20 years with other monotheistic religions,» he said. The patriarch also expressed his appreciation for Obama’s backing of Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union, noting that this was something that he himself had promoted for years. Vartholomaios finally quipped that he had congratulated the US president for the victory of the North Carolina basketball team he supports. «He was impressed that I knew about it and was very pleased,» the patriarch said. As for Obama, he made no comments after the visit, which reportedly was not listed on his official program. The US president followed talks with the patriarch with a visit to Hagia Sophia, accompanied by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On Monday, during a speech before Turkey’s Grand National Assembly, Obama urged Ankara to reopen the Halki Seminary as a gesture to show it supports freedom of expression. Obama and Vartholomaios are expected to meet again in Washington later this year.

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