Greece’s Tsipras visits Hagia Sophia on trip to boost Turkey ties

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Turkish officials visit the Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, now a museum, in Istanbul, Turkey on Feb. 6. (Reuters)
Updated 06 February 2019
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Greece’s Tsipras visits Hagia Sophia on trip to boost Turkey ties

  • He said both countries had agreed to de-escalate tensions in the Aegean Sea and proceed with confidence building measures
  • NATO members Greece and Turkey were nearly drawn into a military clash as recently as 1996 over an uninhabited Aegean islet

ISTANBUL: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras paid a symbolic visit to Istanbul’s former cathedral Hagia Sophia on Wednesday on a trip aimed at improving ties with Turkey, long strained by disputes over territory, energy exploration and Cyprus.
Tsipras met Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday, where the Turkish president said he expected more cooperation from Athens in the repatriation of eight soldiers who fled to Greece following an attempted coup in 2016.
Tsipras told their joint news conference that Greece does not welcome putschists, but that the case of the eight soldiers was a matter for the judiciary.
He said both countries had agreed to de-escalate tensions in the Aegean Sea and proceed with confidence building measures. Differences with Turkey “can and must be solved with dialogue,” he added.
Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin accompanied Tsipras on his tour of Hagia Sophia, which was the foremost cathedral in Christendom for 900 years and one of Islam’s greatest mosques for another 500 years. It has been a museum since 1935.
Tsipras will later visit an island near Istanbul to attend mass at the Orthodox Halki theological school, a center of scholarship until it was closed by the Turkish state in 1971. Turkey’s refusal to reopen it is another bone of contention.
He will also meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of Orthodox Christians worldwide, and representatives of the Greek community in Istanbul.
Another source of tensions between the Aegean neighbors is the divided island of Cyprus, split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. UN-led peace talks between the Greek and Turkish sides collapsed in 2017.
NATO members Greece and Turkey were nearly drawn into a military clash as recently as 1996 over an uninhabited Aegean islet.
On Tuesday, Turkey updated a list of former military officers wanted for their alleged role in the 2016 failed putsch to include the eight officers granted asylum in Greece, and offered a bounty of 4 million Turkish lira ($770,446) for each of them.


Trump and Haftar discussed 'counterterrorism efforts' in Libya

Updated 6 min 53 sec ago
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Trump and Haftar discussed 'counterterrorism efforts' in Libya

WEST PALM BEACH: The White House said on Friday that President Donald Trump spoke by phone on Monday to Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar and discussed "ongoing counterterrorism efforts and the need to achieve peace and stability in Libya."
The statement said Trump "recognized Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources, and the two discussed a shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system."
It was unclear why the White House waited several days to announce the phone call.
On Thursday, both the United States and Russia said they could not support a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya at this time. Also on Thursday, mortar bombs crashed down on a suburb of Tripoli, almost hitting a clinic, after two weeks of an offensive by Haftar's eastern troops on the Libyan capital, which is held by the UN-backed government.
The British-drafted resolution blames Haftar for the latest flare-up in violence when his Libyan National Army (LNA) advanced to the outskirts of Tripoli earlier this month. Many countries in the region see Haftar as a bulwark against extremist groups.  
The United States did not give a reason for its decision not to support the draft resolution, which would also call on countries with influence over the warring parties to ensure compliance and for unconditional humanitarian aid access in Libya. The country has been gripped by anarchy since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011.
White House national security adviser John Bolton also spoke recently to Haftar.