03:29 GMT28 November 2020
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    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's apparent unwillingness to meet with Turkish officials during his visit to Istanbul is nothing short of a diplomatic snub amid simmering tensions between Washington and Ankara, believes Naim Baburoglu, a retired Turkish general.

    On 16 November, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is on a seven-country tour of Europe and the Middle East, arrived in Turkey’s commercial capital Istanbul to hold a meeting with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, which was scheduled for the next day.

    After spending an hour and a half in the patriarchate on Tuesday, Pompeo visited the Rustem Pasha Mosque and continued his diplomatic charm offensive without meeting with any state officials during his Turkish leg. Citing an unnamed Turkish official, Bloomberg wrote on 13 November that the US Secretary of State had declined an invitation by Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to come to Ankara and instead asked Cavusoglu to come to Istanbul to meet him.

    'Pompeo's Move Can't be Viewed Separately From White House's Stance'

    During the first leg of his international tour, Pompeo met with French officials including President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, but only met with only met with Patriarch Bartholomew in Turkey, says Naim Baburoglu, a retired Turkish general, military strategist and academic at Istanbul Aydin University (IAU).

    ​"Pompeo, who also plans to meet with government officials [in Israel, Georgia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia], in Turkey  limited himself to a meeting with the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Fener region, which per se comes in contradiction with a diplomatic practice," he says. "It is unacceptable to demonstrate such a position towards Turkey. It's not a weekend getaway."

    The general believes that Pompeo's "demonstrative provocative actions" should have been "a pretext for summoning the American ambassador to the Turkish Foreign Ministry".

    "Not including a meeting with state officials in his programme of his visit to Turkey, Pompeo thereby went on a provocation, violating diplomatic protocol, international practice and elementary rules of respect for Turkey, which is a NATO member and US ally", the retired general emphasises.

    While Turkey remains a critical NATO ally, there have been frictions between the Trump administration and the cabinet of Recep Tayyip Erdogan for quite a while. During his visit to Paris, Pompeo lashed out at Turkey for what he called "very aggressive actions" in the Middle East over the past few months.

    “Europe and the US must work together to convince Erdogan such actions are not in the interest of his people,” Pompeo told French daily newspaper Le Figaro.

    ​In mid-September, Ankara expressed concerns over the US-Cyprus agreement to build a new security training centre, the Cyprus Center for Land, Open-seas, and Port Security (CYCLOPS), on the island amid growing tensions between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean over maritime delineation and exploration rights. Turkey urged the US to return to the policy of neutrality that it had maintained on the island, which has remained split by Cypriots and Turks since 1974.

    Naim Baburoglu recalls that during his 2.5-year tenure as a US secretary of state, Pompeo has made just one official visit to Turkey:

    "That visit was carried out to convince Ankara to stop the Turkish Armed Forces' Operation Peace Spring in Syria," the military strategist says. "That is, it was an unplanned visit. Meanwhile, Pompeo should have visited Turkey at least three or four times during this tenure, given the scale of tension in the region. Moreover, during his visits to Greece and the Greek administration of southern Cyprus, Pompeo regularly made accusations against Turkey. I don’t think Pompeo’s position can be viewed separately from that of the Trump administration. This is the general line of Washington's policy towards Turkey."

    'Mike Pompeo Looking Forward to Participating in 2022 Senate Race'

    Pompeo's visit to Turkey came amid the electoral debacle in the US caused by reports of alleged irregularities and voter fraud. Although the American mainstream media called former Vice President Joe Biden the projected winner of the 2020 race on 7 November, President Donald Trump has refused to concede suing major battleground states to prevent them from certifying the results and insisting on thorough investigation into alleged fraud.

    However, on 10 November, Erdogan congratulated Joe Biden on his projected win: "I believe that the strong cooperation and the bond of alliance between our countries will continue to make vital contributions to world peace in the future, as it has done so far," the Turkish president said in his congratulatory message.

    It cannot be ruled out that Pompeo regards his diplomatic charm offensive as a good-bye tour in a capacity of the secretary of state while eyeing the 2022 Senate elections, according to Baburoglu.

    “First of all, [the Tuesday summit with Patriarch Bartholomew] is related to Pompeo's aspiration to run for senator in the elections in 2022 from the conservative state of Kansas," the retired general believes. "To do this, he needs the votes of representatives of the Greek Evangelical Church, so he visited the Patriarchate in the Fener region. Pompeo in this case acts in his own interests. In Georgia, he will also meet with representatives of the Orthodox Church. Thus, he intends to enlist support for the upcoming elections."

    Pompeo's decision to stop by the Rustem Pasha Mosque in Istanbul instead of Hagia Sophia is also symbolic, the general points out.

    ​In July 2020, Turkey turned Hagia Sophia – an Orthodox Christian cathedral which was converted into an Islamic house of worship in 1453 and then into a museum in 1931 – into a mosque, amid protests from Orthodox and Catholic Christians and UN rights experts.

    “Previously, all American ministers and delegations, especially during unofficial visits, traditionally visited Hagia Sophia. Instead, Pompeo visited the Rustem Pasha Mosque. Behind this step is the refusal of the US to recognise the change of Hagia Sophia's status," Baburoglu says, condemning Pompeo's move as yet another anti-Turkish snub.


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