VATICAN, Holy See — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Pope Francis at the Vatican next month for talks likely to focus on the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The Turkish leader and head of the Roman Catholic Church both strongly opposed the move announced by US President Donald Trump at the end of last year.
Trump’s December 6 White House address defied worldwide warnings. But the US president insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace, a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum and angered Palestinian and Arab leaders. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
Erdogan’s first trip to the tiny state will be on February 5, the Vatican said. It follows phone calls between the two leaders who share concerns over the US decision and agree the status quo regarding the city should remain.
The Argentine pope met Erdogan during his trip to Turkey in November 2014. The return visit will be the first by a Turkish president since 1959.
Erdogan has expressed hope for a better relationship with the European Union after a fractious 2017, despite concerns over human rights violations in Turkey, particularly during the crackdown that followed a failed coup in July 2016.
Francis has repeatedly praised Turkey’s efforts to welcome Syrian refugees and has said the country can be a “great peacemaker,” while also warning against “fanaticism and fundamentalism.”
But the relationship has not always been plain sailing: tensions flared in 2016 when the pope denounced the World War I killing of Armenians as a genocide, enraging Turkey.
Armenians have long sought international recognition for the killings as genocide, but Turkey — the Ottoman Empire’s successor state — argues that it was a collective tragedy in which both Turks and Armenians died.