.- Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will no longer be available to meet with Pope Benedict XVI when the pontiff visits the Muslim country later this month. But, Turkish officials are denying that the cancelled meeting was not a intentional slight.
The Turkish Embassy to the Holy See announced yesterday that Erdogan would be attending a NATO summit in Estonia during that time.
Erdogan had been tentatively scheduled to meet with the Pope on Nov. 28, the first day of the Pontiff’s trip. He would have been the first Turkish prime minister to receive Pope Benedict XVI.
Ahmet Arslan, speaker for Prime Minster Ergodan, told ANSA today that the Turkish premier will be in Riga, Latvia, for a NATO summit until the night of November 29 and the next day he must chair a meeting in Ankara of the Supreme Defence Council, which had been scheduled since the start of the year and would last all day, he added. "Any intention of a diplomatic snub of the pope for his statements on Islam is totally out of the question," Arslan said.
Meanwhile, ANSA has been told by another spokesman, who preferred to remain anonymous, that final details still need to be worked out on the Pope's schedule and a meeting with Erdogan may still be possible.
The Vatican reported yesterday that Erdogan had indicated he would try to find time to meet with the pope, but if this was not possible a deputy premier would stand in for him.
According to a report in The London Times, Turkish analysts have suggested that, with federal elections on the horizon next year, Erdogan could not afford to meet with the Pope, who provoked outrage across the Muslim world in September when he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor’s statements against Islam.
However, the Pope is confirmed to meet with President Sezer and Ali Bardakoglu, head of the Religious Affairs Directorate and the leading cleric in the predominantly Muslim country.
A statement from the Vatican press office on Thursday said the Holy See had been aware of the Turkish premier's scheduling problems when arranging the pope's visit.
“No one said the Pope had to meet all the officials in Turkey, though he will certainly meet representative authorities,” said papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, reported The Times.