Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (L) is welcomed by archbishop Georg Ganswein as he arrives to attend a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican February 5, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met Pope Francis on Monday to discuss Jerusalem and the fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise the holy city as the capital of Israel.
Both have expressed concern at the move that many U.S. allies say could doom Middle East peace efforts.
Erdogan’s motorcade dropped him off in a deserted St. Peter’s Square after the streets that are usually bustling with tourists were closed due to security fears. The men are also expected to discuss Syria, Iraq, humanitarian aid and refugees.
The Vatican backs a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with both sides agreeing on the status of Jerusalem – home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions – as part of the peace process.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, whereas Israel has declared the whole city to be its “united and eternal” capital.
Erdogan and Francis spoke by phone after Trump made his announcement in December and agreed that any change to the city’s status should be avoided.
Before leaving Turkey, Erdogan said the United States had isolated itself over Jerusalem.
“In the process ahead, come on and accept Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. This is the point that is to be reached. We are now working for this,” he told reporters in Istanbul.
Erdogan has previously clashed with the pope when Francis, in 2015, became the first head of the Roman Catholic Church to publicly call the 1915 killing of as many as 1.5 million Armenians “genocide” – something Turkey has always denied.
Anti-Erdogan demonstrations over human rights and the situation of Turkey’s Kurds were planned for later in the day in Rome, and some 3,500 police and security forces were on duty.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella, writing by Steve Scherer, additional reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)