Pompeo to show support for Greece amid Turkey tensions

Washington (AFP) –


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Greece next week in a show of support following high tensions in the Mediterranean with Turkey, the State Department announced Thursday.

Pompeo will also travel to Italy, with a stop in Vatican City, to discuss religious freedom, and Croatia on the September 27-October 2 trip.

In his second trip to Greece in less than a year, Pompeo will go both to the northern city of Thessaloniki and the southern island of Crete, where he will meet with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Pompeo will "renew our shared commitment to advance security, peace and prosperity in the Eastern Mediterranean and celebrate the strongest US-Greek relationship in decades," the State Department said.

In Crete, he will visit the NATO base at Souda Bay "to underscore the strong US security partnership with NATO ally Greece," it said.

Historic tensions flared last month when Turkey sent a vessel backed by military frigates to hunt for oil and gas reserves in waters also claimed by Greece.

Greece responded with naval exercises as a warning and has enjoyed especially vocal backing from France.

But the tone has recently softened between Greece and Turkey, also a NATO member, with the two agreeing Tuesday to begin exploratory talks on their dispute.

Pompeo earlier this month also discussed the row on a visit to Cyprus, the majority-Greek island whose northern third is occupied by Turkey.

The United States recently lifted a decades-long arms embargo on Cyprus, outraging Turkey.

But President Donald Trump has maintained warm relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who controversially helped persuade the US leader to pull troops from Syria.

Relations have been growing for several years between Washington and Athens, which has been building energy ties with US ally Israel.