US President, Barack Obama, met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, for brief talks in his hotel in Istanbul during his official visit to Turkey.
The private meeting lasted 15 minutes and was attended by White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel and Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America Demetrios.
The visit followed US President Barack Obama’s earlier address to the Turkish Grand National Assembly where he urged Ankara to reopen the Halki Orthodox Seminary near Istanbul as a gesture to show its commitment to freedom of expression.
President Obama urged the Turks to drop their resistance to reopening a historic Orthodox seminary located on an island near Istanbul, a key demand by the European Union, which Turkey hopes to join.
“The United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union… [but] Turkey has its own responsibilities,” Obama told an audience which included his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul. “Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond.”
The Turks have consistently dodged Greek appeals for the reopening of the seminary, asserting that a religious institution cannot exist in Turkey without government oversight.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on Tuesday expressed optimism for the reopening of the Halki seminary and for the resolution of the long-standing problems faced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, after the 15 minute meeting in Istanbul.
The Ecumenical Patriarch said he thanked the US president for his appeal to Ankara to reopen the Halki Orthodox Seminary near Istanbul.
“This institution is necessary to renew its (the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s) clergy and officials, and to fulfil its lofty mission with dialogues with other Christian Churches, as well as the dialogue we have commenced in the past 20 years with the other monotheistic religions,” the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians emphasised.
The patriarch also expressed his appreciation for Obama’s backing of Turkey’s aspirations to join the European Union, noting that this was something that he himself had promoted for years.
The US president followed talks with the patriarch with a historical visit to Hagia Sophia, accompanied by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In his address to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, President Barack Obama also pushed for a solution to the Cyprus deadlock problem.and offered US support for the new intensified drive to reunify Cyprus.
“The United States is willing to offer all the help sought by the parties as they work toward a just and lasting settlement that reunifies Cyprus into a bizonal and bicommunal federation,” he said.