In a sign that things may go smoother than anticipated, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey, the pontiff’s first visit to a Muslim country.
Pope Benedict has said that this is a “trip of dialogue, brotherhood and reconciliation at this difficult moment in history.”
Amid heavy security – said to be even more heightened than when U.S. President George W. Bush was here – aimed at protecting the Pope during his four-day trip to Turkey, Benedict’s plane touched down at Ankara, the nation’s capital. En route to Ankara security forces monitored building roofs, while the Pope was whisked along a highway lined with the flags of Turkey and the Vatican.
Some press reported that Erdogan “warmly” welcomed Benedict to Turkey. In his airport greeting, Erdogan told Benedict that “I want to express my happiness to see you and your delegation in our country,” and described the Pope’s visit as being “very meaningful.”
That’s an interesting choice of words, given that Erdogan – who has been a strong critic of Pope Benedict - only decided yesterday to meet the pontiff after being placed in a political full-nelson by foreign governments who opposed the Turkish prime minister’s plan to snub the Pope and his visit. Indeed, such a decision on the part of Erdogan would have only played into the hands of those who argue that Turkey is not ready to play with the big boys in the diplomatic playground.
Now, however, instead of a no-show being the news, we have images of Erdogan and Benedict shaking hands while walking down a red carpet.
Sceptics could be forgiven for supposing such a radical turnaround has more to do with the prime minister’s desire to show to the world that Turkey is indeed a modern country that merits being included in the European Union, than with any true change of heart. But then who can really tell when it comes to reading politicians’ heart where their principles lie.
Only time will tell if Erdogan’s mellower appearance is truly heartfelt.
Robert Duncan is a journalist and ombudsman for foreign press in Spain. He is a board member and honorary vice-president for the Organización de Periodismo y Comunicación Ibero-Americana. Robert was the bureau chief for an international news agency in Madrid for many years, and was published regularly in Dow Jones Newswires, with articles appearing in The Wall Street Journal.
He is News Editor for Spero News, blogs at Pelican Press, and maintains the Santificarnos website.