US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited a US naval base in Souda Bay on the southern Greek island of Crete on Tuesday ahead of a meeting with the Greek Prime Minister on the second day of his trip to the country.
Pompeo began his five-day regional tour in the city of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece where he met Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and discussed issues such as the recent severe escalation of tensions between Greece and Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean.
Pompeo said Washington will use its diplomatic and military influence in the region to try to ease the volatile conflict over maritime borders and energy exploration rights between the two neighbors and NATO allies. Greek-Turkish relations have deteriorated sharply this year raising fears that the dispute could turn into open conflict.
Turkey has sent a research vessel accompanied by warships to search for energy resources in an area Greece claims to be on its own continental shelf and where it claims exclusive economic rights. Athens sent its own warships to the region.
Members of the European Union are expected to discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions on Turkey for its actions later this week.
However, tension has eased somewhat in recent days and Pompeo hailed the decision by both sides to resume exploratory talks saying maritime disputes should be resolved through dialogue and not demonstrations of power. Amid the tension with Turkey, Greece has announced major arms purchases including fighter jets from France as well as warships helicopters and weapons systems.
Pompeo flew to Crete on Monday evening and spent the night at the home of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The two men were due to meet for talks on Tuesday morning after visiting Souda Bay and a Greek frigate.
Around 1,500 people in Thessaloniki demonstrated Monday evening against Pompeo’s visit carrying signs “The war falcon is not welcome in our country” and “The murderers of peoples are not welcome”. A smaller protest also took place in the Greek capital, Athens. The protests were organized by leftist groups and the Communist Party.