Pompeo calls for joint US-European effort to rein in ‘aggressive’ Turkey

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) listens to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, during a meeting at The Patriarchal Church of St. George in Istanbul on Nov. 17, 2020.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in İstanbul on Monday after telling French daily Le Figaro that his country and Europe need to work together on addressing Ankara’s “very aggressive” actions in the Middle East.

Pompeo on Tuesday met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Istanbul-based spiritual leader of the world’s Greek Orthodox Christians, during a short trip to Turkey that has drawn Turkish officials’ ire and includes no meetings with any of them. The closed-door meeting lasted about an hour and a quarter.

Before he arrived in İstanbul, the top US diplomat told Le Figaro in an interview that Turkey’s increased use of its military capabilities was a concern.

“France’s President Emmanuel Macron and I agree that Turkey’s recent actions have been very aggressive,” Pompeo said, referring to Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Armenia as well as military moves in Libya and the Mediterranean.

“Europe and the US must work together to convince Erdogan such actions are not in the interest of his people,” Pompeo said, referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

According to a report by Bloomberg that cites an anonymous Turkish official, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu invited Pompeo to Ankara but had instead been asked by Pompeo to travel to İstanbul for a meeting. The offer offended Çavuşoğlu, who criticized Pompeo’s visit as “extremely inappropriate interference,” according to the report.

Pompeo’s remarks to Le Figaro, pointing to an agreement between Washington and the French government to label Turkey’s actions as aggressive, seemed to reflect the mood in Paris over the Erdoğan administration.

Clément Beaune, the French minister of European affairs, criticized Turkey in an interview with Europe 1 and Les Echoes radio on Sunday, saying that the country can be pressured with sanctions on the Turkish president or “economic sanctions by sector.”

European countries have long mistaken Turkey for a “sympathetic democracy” with a progressive modernization agenda, Beaune remarked, and said Ankara is propagating “hostile Islamism” at the gates of Europe.

“France is not alone against Turkey, even Germany has changed, and the Europeans are ready for action,” the French minister said. “No one in Europe has any more illusions about Erdogan and his regime.”

Turkish President Erdoğan time and again has chastised Macron over his defense of free speech as a French teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by an 18-year-old assailant on October 16 after he showed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his class.

The attack came amid the French government’s declaration of war against “Islamist separatism” in the country. Attacks in Nice and Vienna followed, labeled as Islamist terrorism by the authorities.

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