President Erdogan meets Pope Francis in Vatican City
Erdoğan’s visit was the first by a Turkish president to the Vatican in 59 years, during which he discussed the status of Jerusalem with the pope. Small-scale scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators nearby.
Returning a visit made by the pope to Turkey in 2014, Erdoğan spoke privately with Francis for about 50 minutes in the pontiff’s frescoed study in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, which he uses mostly for ceremonial purposes.
The two leaders later went for a closed-door meeting at the palace’s Library Hall, which ended after one hour.
The president and First Lady Emine Erdoğan were initially received by Archbishop Georg Ganswein at the San Damaso Courtyard.
Erdoğan’s delegation included Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli, EU Minister Ömer Çelik, and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak.
The pope and the Turkish president also exchanged gifts. Erdoğan presented a 24-piece miniature İznik pottery, which had been made with a ceramics technique popular at the time of Ottoman Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. He also gave him a volume of poems by the medieval poet Rumi translated into Italian and English.
At the end of the private part of the meeting, the pope gave Erdoğan a bronze medallion showing an angel embracing the northern and southern hemispheres while overcoming the opposition of a dragon.
“This is the angel of peace who strangles the demon of war. [It is] a symbol of a world based on peace and justice,” the pope told Erdoğan as he gave him the medallion, made by the Italian artist Guido Verol.
Erdoğan was also expected to meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state.
Turkish sources say that on the agenda of the visit are bilateral relations, the latest developments on Jerusalem, regional issues, the humanitarian tragedy in Syria, and the fight against terrorism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. The two leaders stressed that “equating Islam with terror is wrong,” according to Turkish sources, with Erdoğan telling the pope that Turkey values people from all religions, including Catholics, living in harmony and peace. He reportedly cited the restoration overseen by the government of 14 churches and a synagogue in Turkey.
Turkish sources said Erdoğan and Pope Francis agreed that “joint steps are needed to mobilize the international community to forge regional peace and stability” and to not be silent to ongoing humanitarian crises, also agreeing to maintain relations in the future.
A Vatican statement said the talks “[included] the status of Jerusalem, highlighting the need to promote peace and stability in the region [Middle East] through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law.”
Along with Erdoğan, Pope Francis was among the prominent international leaders criticizing the United States’ decision last December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Erdoğan and the pope spoke by phone in December after Trump made his announcement on Jerusalem and agreed that any change to the city’s status quo should be avoided.
Following his visit to the Vatican, Erdoğan will meet his counterpart Italian President Sergio Mattarella at a working lunch in Rome. Italian Deputy Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni will also be present.
During the meetings, the leaders will discuss cooperation in various areas, including politics, the economy and the defense industry.
Some 3,500 police and security forces were on duty in Rome and authorities declared a no-go area for unauthorized demonstrations that included the Vatican, Erdoğan’s hotel, and the palaces where he is meeting the president and prime minister.
An authorized demonstration of about 150 people including Kurds and their supporters outside nearby Castel Sant‘Angelo, a fortress on the banks of the River Tiber, turned violent when police in riot gear pushed back shouting and shoving protesters who tried to break through their lines. At least one demonstrator was injured, a witness told Reuters.
Italian police said two people were detained after demonstrators tried to break through cordons to get closer to the Vatican from an authorized protest several blocks away.