U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo is traveling to Turkey next week and isn’t meeting with with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or other government leaders— a highly unusual situation in foreign diplomacy.
State Department officials claimed it was because of “scheduling conflicts” while across the Atlantic Turkish officials are insulted and enraged.
U.S. diplomatic officials that briefed reporters on Friday about Pompeo’s 10-day, seven-nation trip said he wants to concentrate on issues of religious freedom. In Istanbul, he’s planning a meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Greek Orthodox Christian leader in the country and the spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians.
But timing won’t allow for a trip to Ankara, State Department officials explained.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called Pompeo’s planned meetings “extremely inappropriate” interference and defended their nation’s record on religious freedom despite repeated Turkish actions including the conversion of important historic sites that were once Greek Orthodox churches into mosques.
A senior State Department official said Pompeo’s itinerary in Turkey didn’t reflect a refusal by Turkish leaders to meet. But a Turkish official, who spoke to Bloomberg News and who asked not to be identified, told a different story: that Pompeo declined an invitation by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to come to Ankara during his visit to Turkey and instead asked Cavusoglu to come to Istanbul to meet him.
Cavusoglu refused, the official said, offended that Pompeo is giving a cold shoulder to Ankara before leaving office, according to a senior Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity to share the sensitive information. Cavusoglu’s office declined to comment, according to Bloomberg.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate issued an official communique welcoming the upcoming Pompeo visit.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Statement:
“We are pleased to announce that the Hon. Michael R. Pompeo, United States Secretary of State, will at his initiative visit the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate this Tuesday, November 17, which is the source of joy and honor for the Mother Church of Constantinople.
We recall that in the past, other U.S. Secretaries of State have also visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate, such as Madeline Albright, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton.
Such visits demonstrate the significance and standing of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as an institution with a history of many centuries, with an invaluable offering and contribution to global civilization.
During his visit to the Phanar, the Secretary expects to discuss with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issues of fundamental rights and religious freedom, on which, as known, the United States has always been interested in consolidating throughout the world.
In this context, we note that in February, 2019, Secretary Pompeo had invited the Ecumenical Patriarch to Washington, DC, to discuss and exchange views on similar issues of concern to humanity today, including the role of religions in establishing peace and stability in the world. However, at the time, the obligations of His All-Holiness prevented that meeting from taking place in the United States.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate expresses its satisfaction for this forthcoming high visit to its See and its gratitude to the U.S. Secretary of State for incorporating it in the schedule of his ten-day journey to Europe and the Middle East.
At the Phanar, November 15, 2020
From the Chief Secretariatof the Holy and Sacred Synod
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