US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, on Wednesday. [Nicholas Kamm/AP]
In an indication of Washington’s growing concern over the fever-pitch tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intervened on Wednesday, calling for a moratorium and the start of a dialogue.
“President Trump’s been in conversations with President Erdogan, he’s spoken with the prime minister in Greece. We’re urging everyone to stand down, to reduce tensions and to begin to have diplomatic discussions about the conflicts that exist there in the Eastern Mediterranean, the security conflicts, the energy resource conflicts, the maritime conflicts,” Pompeo told a Washington press briefing.
“They need to sit down and have conversations about this and resolve this diplomatically. It is not useful to increase military tension in the region; only negative things can flow from that,” he added.
His statement came less than 24 hours after Washington announced – to the chagrin of Turkey – the lifting after 33 years of the embargo on Cyprus for the purchase of non-lethal defense articles. Pompeo said it was a “long time coming.”
“We know that this decision was announced in light of heightened tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean but we thought it was the right thing, so I made the decision that we would move forward with it,” he said.
However, Turkey continued its incendiary rhetoric on Wednesday and reiterated its demand for the “demilitarization” of the island of Kastellorizo. What’s more, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay disputed the validity of the agreement whereby Italy handed over sovereignty of the Dodecanese islands to Greece in 1947. Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou will visit Kastellorizo on September 13 to attend the 77th anniversary celebration marking its liberation.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos and his French counterpart Florence Parly had a phone conversation on Wednesday that chiefly focused on defense procurement. Parly reportedly expressed France’s appreciation of the capabilities of Greece’s air force and the F-16 pilots who participated in the Eunomia joint exercises with France, Italy and Cyprus last week.
Panagiotopoulos gave Parly an account of the situation in the region arising from the continued presence of the Turkish Oruc Reis survey ship.
They also discussed the acquisition of French Rafale fighter jets, reportedly a total of 18. What remains to be determined is the ratio of new to used aircraft.