EU Urges Turkey to ‘Reverse’ Hagia Sophia Reconversion Plan

The European Union’s top diplomat lashed out at Turkey for its plan to reconvert Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia monument to a mosque, saying the move will stoke religious tensions.

“This decision will inevitably fuel mistrust, provoke renewed division between religious communities and undermine our efforts at dialog and cooperation,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Brussels on Monday after chairing a meeting with national counterparts from the 27-member bloc. “There was a broad support to call on the Turkish authorities to urgently reconsider and reverse this decision.”

EU Urges Turkey to ‘Reverse’ Hagia Sophia Reconversion Plan

The gathering, the first in-person meeting of EU foreign ministers since the coronavirus-induced lockdown, focused largely on Turkey amid bloc-wide concerns about its greater regional assertiveness. Borrell’s press conference took place more than two hours after it was originally scheduled.

Erdogan Asserts Rebirth of an Islamic Turkey at Hagia Sophia

Relations between the EU and Turkey have been deteriorating since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to a failed coup attempt almost four years ago to the day -- July 15, 2016 -- with a widespread crackdown on political opponents.

Ties soured further with greater Turkish geopolitical muscle-flexing, including energy exploration off Cyprus, a military operation in northern Syria to carve out a buffer zone and a maritime-boundary accord with Libya.

At the same time, the EU is keen to avoid antagonizing a key ally in preventing an influx of Middle East migrants, particularly from war-torn Syria. The bloc wants to ensure that Turkey stands by a March 2016 agreement on curbing the flow of refugees into Europe via Greece in return for 6 billion euros ($6.8 billion) in aid.

The EU balancing act was on display in February this year when the bloc blacklisted two Turkish nationals in retaliation over Ankara’s natural-gas drilling in the eastern Mediterranean. The sanctions, though the first of their kind in response to the actions of a country seeking to join the EU, had more political symbolism than economic punch.

Borrell on Monday held out the prospect of expanding this European blacklist while signaling a general desire to de-escalate. “We are going to explore further paths that could contribute to lowering tensions,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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