LAST UPDATE: 15:42
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew held a meeting today with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo at the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople.
On Twitter, the US state secretary said: “Honored to meet with His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and to visit the Patriarchal Church of St. George today. As leader of the Orthodox world, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a key partner as we continue to champion religious freedom around the globe.”
Honored to meet with His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and to visit the Patriarchal Church of St. George today. As leader of the Orthodox world, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is a key partner as we continue to champion religious freedom around the globe. pic.twitter.com/1u96nPZwgV
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) November 17, 2020
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is paying a visit to Constantinople today with an agenda focused on “religious freedom” but has not scheduled any meetings with Turkish leaders, whom he says he wants to “persuade” to refrain from “very aggressive” actions.
Mike Pompeo began the visit, which provoked criticism from Ankara, with a meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, before taking a tour of Rustem Pasha Mosque.
The US state secretary will discuss “religious issues in Turkey and the region” and underline the “firm position” of the United States on these issues, which Mike Pompeo has made a top priority on human rights agenda.
“There are certain things we can talk about” regarding religious freedom in Turkey, a US official told reporters, indirectly criticizing Turkish stance.
Turkey sparked a wave of criticism in Christendom in July when it turned the World Heritage Site, Hagia Sophia, into a mosque, revoking its status as a museum.
A small group of people, responding to the call of a nationalist union, protested near the Ecumenical Patriarchate against Pompeo’s visit, shouting “Yankee go home,” as witnessed by an AFP photographer.
Turkish diplomacy expressed anger over Pompeo’s program and assured that religious freedom was “protected” in Turkey. “It would be more suitable for the U.S. to first look in the mirror and show the requisite sensitivity towards human rights violations in the country such as racism, Islamophobia and hate crimes,” Ankara said.
Washington is now in danger of opening a new front while there are many controversial points with the Turkish authorities, noted the AFP.
Mike Pompeo wanted to travel to Constantinople only to meet the Ecumenical Patriarch and was not ready to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or his counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on the condition they come to him from the capital Ankara. A meeting seemed possible after intense negotiations before the talks fell apart.
As reported by AFP, it is difficult to gauge whether the election of Joe Biden, whom Erdogan congratulated three days after his victory even though he is a friend of Donald Trump who does not accept his defeat, played a role in the imbroglio.
At the center of the discussion that took place between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the US Secretary of State, which lasted about an hour, were issues that concern the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Greek Diaspora and the Orthodox faithful in the country. They also discussed about the Orthodoxy in the world, but also the course of inter-Christian dialogue.
Regarding the USA, the Ecumenical Patriarch referred to the multidimensional work of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, but also of the Greek Diaspora, which is a brilliant and dynamic part of the American society.
They also had the opportunity to discuss issues of wider interest, such as the initiatives of the Ecumenical Throne to raise global public awareness of the need to preserve the Creation and the protection of the natural environment, as well as the Interreligious Dialogue aimed at promoting peaceful coexistence and sharing between different peoples and cultures.
In this context, there was an exchange of views on the issue of respect for fundamental rights and religious freedom in the world, for the consolidation of which the United States is known to be interested.
The Ecumenical Patriarch stressed the need to protect Christians, but also all the religious communities in the Middle East, which in recent years have been severely tested by war and a large number of them have experienced uprooting and refuge.
Metropolitan of France: The issue of Hagia Sophia was discussed
Metropolitan Emmanuel of France made some statements to the press on the historical visit of the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and on the meeting he had with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
The Metropolitan mentioned that this was not the first visit of a Secretary of State, “many others such as Madeline Albright, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton, were here before. But as a Secretary of State of a great country such as the USA has a very important role.” He highlighted that the Ecumenical Patriarch was very happy to receive the State Secretary and exchange with him views on important matters such as religious freedom, fundamental rights, safeguarding of the presence of Christians in the Middle East but also the Orthodox faithful around the globe.
The Metropolitan of France stressed in his statement that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is responsible for the unity of the Orthodoxy and highlighted the importance of having peace in the world, and religious communities can play an important role in safeguarding peace and stability in the globe. Asked if the issue of Hagia Sophia had been raised by Pompeo, the Metropolitan of France said that the matter had been discussed but that he was not in the position to make any comment. He reminded, however, that the Ecumenical Patriarch has repeatedly referred to the issue and has expressed the views and regret of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for this political decision.