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Erdogan meets with Pope to discuss status of Jerusalem

(Reuters/Alessandro Di Meo/Pool)Pope Francis welcomes Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a private audience at the Vatican, February 5, 2018.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan went to the Vatican on Monday for a 50-minute meeting with Pope Francis to discuss several issues, including the relations between the Catholic Church and Turkey, the migrant crisis and the status of Jerusalem.

Demonstrations had been banned in Rome's center for 24 hours after Erdogan arrived in Rome for a two-day visit that included meetings with Italian authorities and business leaders.

Before departing for Rome, Erdogan told reporters at Istanbul's airport that his visit to the Vatican was a "significant opportunity to draw attention to common human values."

The Turkish president said at the time that he intends to discuss the status of Jerusalem and the situation in Palestine, Syria and Iraq, as well as "counterterrorism, refugee issues and humanitarian aid."

During the meeting, Francis and Erdogan reportedly discussed the current situation in Turkey, "the condition of the Catholic community, efforts in the reception of the many refugees and the challenges linked to this," according to a statement from The Vatican.

The two leaders went on to focus on the situation in the Middle East, "with particular reference to the status of Jerusalem, highlighting the need to promote peace and stability in the region through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law."

Erdogan had reportedly called the pontiff in December to discuss his concern regarding the status of Jerusalem after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. is officially recognizing the city as the capital of Israel.

Francis had repeatedly stated that the only way to preserve Jerusalem's unique identity as a place considered holy by Christians, Muslims and Jews was through a special, internationally guaranteed statute on the city's status.

The pope had recently issued a special appeal, calling for respect for the "status quo" of Jerusalem and had prayed that "wisdom and prudence would prevail to avoid adding new elements of tension in a world already shaken and scarred by many cruel conflicts."

In an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa on Sunday, Erdogan commended pope for his "sound message" following Trump's announcement regarding the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"Because Jerusalem is not just an issue for Muslims. Both of us support the defense of the status quo and we have the will to maintain it," the Turkish president said.

Erdogan's meeting with the pope was the first state visit by a Turkish president to the Vatican in 59 years, according to Breitbart News.

The two leaders exchanged gifts during the visit, with Erdogan giving Francis a boxed collection of works by 13th-century Muslim mystic Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, and the pontiff giving the Turkish leader a large bronze medallion of an "angel of peace," who, the pope said, "strangles the demon of war."

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