Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has publicly expressed on numerous occasions his outrage over U.S. President Donald Trump's momentous December 6 declaration acknowledging Jerusalem to be Israel's capital, amped up his rhetoric against Washington's recent move in an interview released Sunday by Italian daily La Stampa.
Speaking about his upcoming visit to Italy and the Vatican, where he is slated to meet Pope Francis, the Turkish president stressed that first and foremost on his agenda was the issue of the contested city. "My top priority is Jerusalem," he said.
"The pope and myself are at one on Jerusalem, no one can take unilateral steps on a city which is dear to billions of people," Erdogan further stated. "We need to take joint actions to preserve the status quo," he continued.
When asked why he deemed it so pressing to discuss the status of Jerusalem with the pope, Erdogan reiterated his message: "No nation in the world has the right to take unilateral steps on a city which is dear to billions of people, ignoring international laws."
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"That’s why the UN General Assembly voted to condemn the Trump declaration on Jerusalem last December," he added. "Only a few countries supported the U.S. and Israel, and I was glad to see Italy voted against the U.S. decision, too," he shared.
Erdogan extolled Pope Francis for taking immediate action following the U.S. president's statement in December. "Following Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, which violated international law, he immediately spoke to the Pope. After [the] phone call Pope Francis swiftly conveyed the right message on Jerusalem to all of his Christian followers around the world, and I want to thank him for that."
"The status of Jerusalem is a central issue for both Muslims and Christians, both the Pope and myself are committed to protecting the status quo," Erdogan emphasized.
When asked what kind of steps he saw himself taking together with the pope to preserve the status quo in the city, Erdogan shared his long-term vision for Jerusalem "We should take measures to preserve the status quo, ensure holy places in Jerusalem remain open to the three religions, and protect the rights of the Palestinians. It is important that the Pope keeps advocating for this," he continued.
The Turkish president highlighted his support for the Palestinian people, saying in his interview that he fully supported the Palestinian quest for statehood. "All countries around the world should recognize the State of Palestine," he said. "I call on Italy to do it too," he urged.
Asked what solution he envisions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Erdogan flatly stated: "The only solution is the two-state solution."
The Turkish president spoke harshly before of Trump's move on Jerusalem as well as on Israel's conduct in the city and in the region at large. Shortly after Trump made his announcement in December, Erdogan bashed him as a "partner in bloodshed" and promised to continue his diplomatic efforts to reverse the American president's "null" declaration.
Israeli forces are "terrorists," he said at the time. "We won't leave Jerusalem to the mercy of a child-murdering country," Erdogan blasted. Israel, he accused, has no values other than "occupation and plunder."
Erdogan was among the first of world leaders to decry Trump's declaration, but while he pledges to lead action against Israel and in favor of the Palestinians, Israel has retorted that his accusations are insignificant and inciteful, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charging that the Erdogan "has attacked Israel."
Netanyahu slammed Erdogan for double standards, saying in response to his allegations: "I'm not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villages in his native Turkey."
Comments by Erdogan provided in an interview to La Stampa were translated by Haaretz contributor Davide Lerner.