World

Only Erdogan can solve Halki Seminary issue: Greek aide

'Turkey and Greece will start exploratory talks after preparatory phase,' Greek official says

Zehra Nur Düz   | 08.02.2019
Only Erdogan can solve Halki Seminary issue: Greek aide Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Georgios Katrougalos

Ankara

By Furkan Naci Top

ATHENS 

Only Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can solve the problem of Halki Seminary of Heybeliada between Greece and Turkey, a Greek official said Thursday in wake of the Turkish leader’s suggestion of reopening the seminary.

Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Georgios Katrougalos told Anadolu Agency: “If a decision on the reopening of the Heybeliada Halki Seminary is taken, it can only be taken by president Erdogan.”

Her remarks came after Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ visited to the site of the Halki Seminary on Heybeliada island Wednesday as part of a two-day official visit to Turkey.

Erdogan welcomed Tsipras on Tuesday for a two-day visit focused on steps to improve bilateral cooperation.

Relations between Ankara and Athens was comprehensively reviewed during the visit where Erdogan and Tsipras exchanged views on regional and international developments.

Erdogan suggested the seminary could be reopened if Athens improved conditions for the Muslim community in Western Thrace -- an area with a large Turkish Muslim population.

Tsipras’s visit to the site was the first by a Greek leader in decades.

“Alexis Tsipras was the first prime minister to visit the Halki Seminary of Heybeliada,” Katrougalos said.

Established in 1844, the seminary was closed in 1971 under a law that placed religious and military training under state control.

Before visiting Heybeliada, Tsipras visited the famed Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) museum where he took part in a religious ceremony headed by Fener Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew.

“President Erdogan and Greek leader Tsipras had chance to discuss all issues between two countries during the meeting,” Katrougalos said. “Two leaders agreed to develop relations under mutual respect and agreed to start negotiations in order to achieve concrete results.”

On the potential initiation of the exploratory talks between the two countries, Katrougalos said: “First, there will be talks at the level of Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Ministers. Defense Ministers will come together to build trust. Then we will bring the negotiations to the level of Foreign Ministers. After this preparatory phase, we will start the exploratory talks.

“The date for the High-Level Cooperation Council’s fifth meeting planned to be held in Thessalonica is not finalized yet,” Katrougalos she said.

“President Erdogan pointed out April. I'm not sure if we can complete the preparations by that time. Both sides are committed to getting the best results by getting ready as quickly as possible,” she added.

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