US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has refused to go to Ankara to meet with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu during a scheduled visit to Turkey, in the process offending Turkey’s top diplomat, Bloomberg reported on Friday.
Pompeo’s seven-country trip to France, Turkey, Georgia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia between November 13 and 23 includes a stop in İstanbul, where on Tuesday he will meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Greek Orthodox Christians.
Pompeo, who said the trip would focus on issues of religious liberty, won’t meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or other government leaders when he visits Turkey, citing scheduling conflicts.
Bloomberg cited a senior State Department official as saying that Pompeo’s itinerary in Turkey did not reflect a refusal by Turkish leaders to meet.
However, the report cites an anonymous Turkish source who said Pompeo turned down an invitation by Çavuşoğlu to come to Ankara during his visit, asking him instead to travel to Istanbul to meet with him.
Çavuşoğlu, offended that Pompeo is giving the cold shoulder to Ankara before leaving office, rejected the offer, according to Bloomberg’s report.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry denounced Pompeo’s planned meetings, calling them “extremely inappropriate” interference, defending the country’s record on religious freedom.
Pompeo had spoken out against converting the Hagia Sophia, once a cathedral constructed during the Byzantine era, from a museum into a mosque over the summer.
Finished in 537 in Constantinople, it was the main cathedral in Christendom — and the world’s largest — for 900 years before becoming an Ottoman mosque in 1453. The building was turned into a museum by Atatürk in 1935 after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic as a secular state. The first Friday prayers were held there on July 24 after a hiatus of nine decades.