Greek PM asks Pompeo for U.S. help to calm Turkish offshore tensions

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Greece
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives to sign a Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at the Foreign Ministry in Athens, Greece October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/Pool

October 5, 2019

By David Brunnstrom and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged the United States on Saturday to use its influence to defuse tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, where Cyprus and Turkey are locked in a dispute over offshore rights.

Mitsotakis told visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Turkish moves south of the island in recent days were a “flagrant violation” of Cyprus’ sovereign rights.

Tensions between Cyprus and Turkey over offshore drilling have intensified after Ankara sent a drilling ship to an area already licensed by Nicosia to Italian and French energy companies.

Turkey and Greece are allies in NATO but long at loggerheads over Cyprus, which has been ethnically split between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since 1974.

“The United States have a particular interest in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Cyprus is only asking for the self-evident, the implementation of international law,” Mitsotakis told Pompeo, who is visiting Greece on the last leg of a trip to southern Europe.

“I anticipate the positive contribution of the United States to lead to the creation finally of a more constructive and fruitful climate of cooperation in the region,” Mitsotakis said.

Ankara says some of the areas where Cyprus is exploring are either on its own continental shelf or in zones where Turkish Cypriots have equal rights over any finds with Greek Cypriots.

A Turkish drill ship, the Yavuz, is currently 50 nautical miles off Cyprus. Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said on Saturday that drilling would start “as soon as possible”.

Responding to Mitsotakis, Pompeo did not refer to Cyprus.

“Today the relationship between (our) two countries has truly never been stronger,” Pompeo said, praising the efforts of Greece on its path to economic recovery.

“We are very confident that together we can work to ensure Greece can be a pillar for stability in this region.”Greece and the United States have traditionally close relations even though many blame Washington for its tacit support to a military junta that ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974. Protest marches to the U.S. Embassy are an annual event.

As Pompeo visited town, groups of protesters marching to the U.S. Embassy on Saturday clashed with police, who fired teargas to disperse them.

Earlier, several hundred demonstrators had gathered in Athens’s main Syntagma square, chanting “Americans, Murderers of Peoples” to protest against the extension of a defense agreement between the two countries.

They held banners reading “Pompeo go home – No to the Greece-USA agreement”.

(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Alkis Konstantidis; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Frances Kerry)

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