A visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Greece, his second in less than a year, is expected to focus on a deepening of bilateral military cooperation and Greece’s plans for defense procurements, while also evaluating tensions with Turkey and developments in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Pompeo is to visit the US naval base at Souda Bay on Crete on Tuesday following talks in Thessaloniki on Monday with Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias. Apart from the Souda visit, which has prompted annoyance in Turkey, the US envoy will also be hosted by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at his home on the island.
The visit is seen as underlining the significance of Greek-American cooperation in defense and security and of Greece’s place as a hub of stability in the region.
The US appears keen to deepen ties with Greece following the renewal of the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement signed between the two countries last year. In addition, US firm Lockheed Martin has undertaken the upgrade of 84 Greek F-16 fighter jets while a deal for the acquisition of four MH-60R helicopters has been finalized and there is strong US interest in the upgrade of four MEKO-type Greek frigates and the construction of four new ones. Athens, for its part, is expected to seek US support for the creation of a second naval base at Souda.
The presence of F-16s from the United Arab Emirates at Souda Bay is seen as symbolically significant as the developing security relationship between Greece, Israel and the UAE has the approval of Washington.
Pompeo’s visit to Greece was the focus of criticism in the Turkish press over the weekend, which noted that the US official also visited Cyprus in the middle of the East Med crisis. The irritation comes as Ankara insists on raising issues for discussion when bilateral exploratory talks resume on October 1-2.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday referred once again to the notion of a “Blue Motherland” in the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black seas a day after Turkey’s National Security Council called for the demilitarization of the Aegean islands. Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas repeated that there is no question of demilitarization of Aegean islands.
Meanwhile, ahead of a European Union leaders’ summit on October 1 and 2, European Council President Charles Michel aims to set up a multilateral East Med summit.