WASHINGTON — While US President Donald Trump has aligned himself more with Turkey as it provokes Greece, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit Athens, Thessaloniki and Crete in a stopover aimed at showing American backing.
“Secretary Pompeo will meet with Prime Minister Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Dendias to renew our shared commitment to advance security, peace, and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean and celebrate the strongest US-Greek relationship in decades,” the US State Department said.
His tour, that will include stops in Italy and Croatia, begins Sept. 27 and comes before a scheduled Oct. 1-2 European Union showdown with Turkey over its plans to drill for energy in Greek waters.
The US has a military cooperation deal with Greece, keeps drones in the country and has a naval base on Souda Bay on Crete – near where Turkey plans to hunt for oil and gas – but Trump said he considers Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a friend and a “hell of a leader” and said he likes his tough-guy style.
In Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city and major port, he will “sign a bilateral science and technology agreement, as well as host energy sector business leaders for a discussion to highlight energy diversification and infrastructure projects in Greece,” the report said.
On Crete, he will visit Souda Bay “to underscore the strong US security partnership with NATO ally Greece,” the announcement added. Turkey is also a member of the defense alliance which had refused to intervene over constant Turkish violations of Greek airspace and waters but now has stepped in trying to cool down tensions and prevent a conflict.
Pompeo tweeted that he was “looking forward to discussing important trade, security, and religious freedom issues with my counterparts in Greece, Italy, the Holy See, and Croatia next week.”
He visited Cyprus – where Turkey is drilling – earlier in September and there was no explanation why he didn't hop over to Greece as the tension was soaring with Turkey.
“Increased military tensions help no one but adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity," Pompeo said after talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.