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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Turkey forewarns Pompeo on religion ahead of visit

Mike Pompeo is visiting Turkey [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 November, 2020

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The US secretary of state is visiting Turkey, where he will speak of religious freedom, to Erdogan's annoyance.


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's planned visit to Turkey got off to a rocky start Wednesday when Ankara criticised his decision to raise the issue of religious freedom.

The top Washington diplomat will be in Istanbul next Monday and Tuesday as part of a seven-nation nation tour that also takes him to Paris and parts of the Middle East.

The Istanbul leg is notable for an absence of scheduled meetings with any top Turkish officials. His only planned talks are with Bartholomew I of Constantinople - the spiritual leader of the Greek Orthodox world.

The State Department said Pompeo wanted to "discuss religious issues in Turkey and the region and to promote our strong stance on religious freedom around the world".

The meeting with the patriarch will come four months after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan converted Istanbul's emblematic Hagia Sophia monument into a mosque.

Pompeo publically criticised the conversion in July.

The Turkish foreign ministry called Pompeo's chosen subject matter for the visit "extremely inappropriate".

"It would be better if the United States looked in the mirror and showed the necessary sensitivity to human rights violations such as racism, Islamophobia and hate crimes in its own country," it said in a statement.

Relations between Washington and its strategic NATO ally have run hot and cold during Donald Trump's presidency.

Erdogan has cultivated close personal relations with Trump and been able to call him up directly to try and influence specific policy decisions.

But Ankara and Washington have also sparred over US support for a Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey views as a grave security threat.

Erdogan congratulated Joe Biden with his election victory on Tuesday - three full days after it was called by US media.

He followed that up by sending a separate message to Trump a few hours later expressing thanks for his "warm friendship" and saying he stood by his side "no matter how the official election result is certified".

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