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(photo credit: AP)
Turkey's prime minister said Tuesday that Pope Benedict XVI told him he wanted Turkey to join the European Union. The Vatican said only that it views as favorable the steps that Turkey is taking to meet EU membership requirements.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan greeted Benedict when he arrived in the Turkish capital on a flight from Rome, and the two men had a private discussion at the airport. Erdogan, whose Muslim country is engaged in a troubled bid to join the EU, later told reporters:
"I said to the pope, 'I ask for your help on the way to the European Union,' and on this subject he said, 'You know we are not politicians, but we hope Turkey enters the European Union."'
Asked about Erdogan's remark, a senior Vatican official said the Vatican favors the steps Turkey is taking to meet EU membership requirements. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, noting that the Vatican is not a "political entity."
In a statement, Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said:
"The Holy See has neither the power nor the specific political task of intervening on the exact point regarding the entry of Turkey into the European Union. It's not in its scope.
However, it views positively and encourages the road of dialogue and of moving toward integration in Europe on the basis of common values and principles."
As a cardinal, before he became pope, Benedict said Turkey represented a culture "in permanent contrast to Europe" and has repeatedly called for a return in Europe to fundamental Christian values.
At a press conference earlier Tuesday, a representative of the Vatican noted that Benedict's earlier remarks were made before he became pope.
"When a man becomes the pope ... it's in a sense expected that his personal views recede into the background," Bishop Brian Farrell said.
He said the Vatican was not a member of the European Union and had no official stance on Turkey's membership bid.
The pope's perceived opposition to Turkey's EU bid fueled Turkish criticism of Benedict, whose visit to Turkey is his first to a Muslim nation.
Turkey has conducted economic and other reforms in an effort to join the EU, but a dispute over divided Cyprus and other issues threatens to derail its campaign.