United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit Turkey and one of his priorities is to tackle religious freedom. He will meet with a spiritual leader, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, in Istanbul to discuss the issues in Turkey and the region and promote America’s strong stance about religious freedom around the world.
However, it appears the agenda of Pompeo has not sat well with Turkish officials. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu branded the statement on Pompeo’s upcoming trip as inappropriate, adding that it may be best for the delegation to focus on the US-Turkey alliance, the Associated Press reported.
“It would be more advisable for the United States to look in the mirror first and to show the necessary sensitivity to human rights violations such as racism, Islamophobia and hate crimes in its own country,” the Turkish ministry said in a statement.
So far, it has yet to be revealed what other agenda Pompeo has in his upcoming visit to Istanbul. Worth noting is that the trip of the US Secretary of State does not include any meeting with Turkish foreign officials.
Until that is revealed, the response of Turkey sends out mixed signals on what lies ahead as far as the relationship between Turkey and the US is concerned. Religious freedom has become a sensitive issue as of late.
Among those tied to that includes the conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque and the deportation of Christian evangelists.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the conversion of the city's historic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque after a court annulled a 1934 presidential decree that made it a museum back in July, CNN reported. The move was made despite calls for the former cathedral to be kept as a museum.
"Like all our mosques, its doors will be open to everyone -- Muslim or non- Muslim. As the world's common heritage, Hagia Sophia with its new status will keep on embracing everyone in a more sincere way," Erdogan said at that time.
This also raises questions on what the future relationship between Turkey and the United States would look like. President Donald Trump held good ties with President Erdogan in the past but the statement could hint at changes ahead.
Further, Presidential-elect Joe Biden has not exactly hit it well with Turkey. As a US Senator, Biden backed Hellenic groups and supported legislation in halting military aid to Turkey after their invasion of Cyprus. Biden is also the only sitting Vice President to visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Worth noting as well is that Pompeo does not appear to have a good working relationship with Biden as of now. He previously said "there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration," CNN reported.
Pompeo’s trip is part of a tour that will also see him visit France, Georgia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia from Nov. 13 to 23.