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Conversion of Chora Monastery into a mosque a ‘tragic’ decision, even for Turks, Pompeo says

ATHENS – [Photos GOA/ Dimitris Panagos]

Former U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo was strongly critical of the Turkish government’s decision to convert the Byzantine Chora Monastery from a museum into a mosque, while talking to journalists in Athens, including Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) President and General Director Aimilios Perdikaris. The press conference was held on the margins of the International Conference of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on May 26-29.

The former head of the state department said the decision was “tragic” for Turkish citizens and the faithful of all religions, while he also referred to the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, the stance adopted by Washington and the upcoming U.S. presidential elections in the autumn, including the likelihood of Donald Trump’s re-election.

Pompeo said the decision to convert the former church into a mosque was not only a blow to religious freedoms but undermined the freedom of Turkish citizens – while noting that the Trump administration had indicated that such an action would not be tolerated, as it also contravened the fundamental principles of the European Union, which Turkiye is seeking to join, and the idea of its participation in NATO. He described the decision as contrary to human dignity and personal religious freedom, as well as a reminder of the difficulty of protecting human rights.

Replying to an ANA-MPA question on whether the recent improvement in relations between Greece and Turkiye could contribute to a good outcome on this issue, he expressed certainty that the Greek government will strive for this and said that an improvement in Greek-Turkish relations will increase the chances of finding “more space” for religious freedoms in Turkiye – and not just for Orthodox Christians.

Trump will do well, ties with Israel will be strengthened

Replying to a question on the upcoming U.S. elections, Pompeo said he was certain of a Trump victory and that the former president “will do better” in his second term, while noting that this will very likely bring significant changes to U.S. foreign policy. With respect to the Middle East, in particularly, he said there will be a return to the “prior state” and that relations with Israel and the Persian Gulf states will be further strengthened, with the goal of isolating Iran. He suggested that the relaxation that has prevailed has helped Tehran’s efforts to strengthen its nuclear arsenal.

He said that the Trump administration will likely be “more serious” concerning relations with China, especially in trade, while regarding Ukraine, he pointed out that the Trump administration had supplied the defence equipment that Ukrainians used to defend themselves against the Russians – including missiles that protected Kiyv in February 2022 – which the previous Obama administration had refused to do. He expressed hope that Trump will be able to persuade Vladimir Putin that the war has cost, while noting that it was vital for the entire world that Russia should not win. If that happened, he added, this would be a blow to the West and its civilisation and suggested that the Biden policies had allowed Putin to implement his plans.

In response to a question on U.S. relations with Greece, Pompeo welcomed the Biden administration’s effort to strengthen defence cooperation between the two countries, saying it could become even closer under Trump. He said the U.S. should support Europe’s efforts to strengthen its defence outside of a NATO framework, noting that the importance of air defence was made clear in the Middle East and elsewhere. He encouraged all European states to move in this direction and to enhance their naval presence in the Mediterranean.

Hamas cannot win this war 

Talking about the war between Israel and Hamas, Pompeo was clear that “Hamas cannot win this war”, and that, while the humanitarian crisis in Gaza leaves no one unmoved, it can on no account be compared to the barbaric actions of Hamas. He said that Hamas was supported by Iran and, for this reason, the U.S. must strengthen its relations with Israel and all states in the region that “respect human dignity and International Law,” do not target civilians and do not want the war.

He said Israel must be supported, describing it as the “rock” of religious freedoms in the Middle East. He also expressed regret that the Biden administration had created the impression, as he claimed, of a rift in U.S.-Israeli relations that had benefited Hamas and encouraged terrorists. He predicted that Israeli operations would also extend north due to the involvement of Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border.

Replying to an ANA-MPA question on how the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East might end, Pompeo expressed hope that the West and its principles will be victorious in both but warned that there will be a cost in each case. Regarding Ukraine, he said that negotiations appeared as a solution but that a disorderly retreat by Ukraine would mean that Russia’s aggression was vindicated.

On the conflict between Israel and Hamas, he said that everyone understands, even Israel, that there can be no return to what existed before October 7, 2023.

Asked if he sees possible attempts at interference by foreign forces in the U.S. elections, Pompeo said he was certain that Russia and China were already attempting to interfere in various ways, as they have been doing for the past 50 years. While the practice was not new, he added, the tools available had changed with time and there was now greater opportunity, due to social media. He also warned Europe’s leadership over possible interference in the European elections.

[ANA-MPA]

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