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Politics

Ex-Amb. Burns Says Trump Passed on Aghia Sophia in Erdogan Call

ATHENS — Former US Ambassador to Greece Nicholas Burns said President Donald Trump didn't bring up the venerated Aghia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople being turned into a mosque during the US leader's call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is having his way.

Burns, now Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, was America's emissary to Greece from 1997-2001 and speaks Greek.

He has been a frequent critic of Trump and told the Greek newspaper Kathimerini that, “It is “It is very disappointing that President Trump apparently did not even raise the issue with President Erdogan in their recent phone call. That is a major missed opportunity.”

Burns noted  Democratic candidate Joe Biden, who has backed Greece, had called the conversion wrong although – ironically – many Greek-Americans support Trump despite his friendship with Erdogan, whom he called “a hell of a leader.” 

Erdogan, increasing provocations after sending fighter jets and warships to violate Greek airspace and waters repeatedly, with NATO refusing to intervene although both belong to the defense alliance, ordered Aghia Sophia to become a mosque and the country's high court kicked the question back to him, saying he's the ruler. 

Burns said that Biden's statement in support of keeping Aghia Sophia a cathedral “was right and forceful,” but Trump and Erdogan have shown they don't care one iota what anyone thinks, the Turkish leader scornful of US calls otherise not to make the change.

Biden, said Burns, “Criticized the Turkish decision and urged President Erdogan to reverse it in order to secure ‘equal access for all.' I hope Greeks and the Greek community worldwide, including in the US, know  how important a statement this is.”

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