The United States and Greece have called for a peaceful resolution of maritime disputes in the east Mediterranean as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began a two-day trip to Greece amid increased regional tension over energy resources.
The often-testy relations between Greece and neighbouring Turkey have deteriorated sharply this year, particularly over maritime boundaries and exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean. The dramatic escalation in tension has raised fears of a war between the two NATO members.
“The United States and Greece … reaffirmed their belief that maritime delimitation issues should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law,” the United States and Greece, also NATO allies, said in a joint statement after Pompeo met his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.
The US also welcomed Greece’s readiness to seek maritime agreements with its neighbours in the region, they said after meeting in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
Tensions escalated last month after Turkey sent a research vessel, accompanied by warships, to prospect for energy resources in an area Greece claims as its own continental shelf and, therefore, its exclusive economic zone. Athens has sent its own warships to the area.
Turkey’s Oruc Reis seismic research ship has since returned to waters near southern Turkey, a move Greece hailed as a “positive step”.
But Turkey later extended the operations of its Yavuz energy drillship in the disputed area off Cyprus until October 12, which Cyprus decried as a sign Ankara was expanding “illegal drilling”.
European powers, who tend to side with Greece, have raised concern about a wider escalation.
But last week the rivals said they were ready to start talks.
“Let’s meet, let’s talk and let’s seek a mutually acceptable solution. Let’s give diplomacy a chance,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a plea to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an address on Friday to the virtual UN General Assembly.
Pompeo will fly to the Greek island of Crete on Tuesday and tour the NATO naval base, Souda Bay.
Mitsotakis, who is hosting Pompeo at his family home, wants closer military ties with the US.
The US secretary of state signed a defence agreement last October allowing US forces broader use of Greek military facilities.
A key element of the October deal was the northern Greek port of Alexandroupolis, a Balkans and Black Sea gateway of strategic value to the US Navy and NATO.
The US has been granted priority status to the port after paying roughly $2.3m to remove a sunken dredging barge that had blocked part of the harbour since 2010.
At the time, Greek officials said the Pentagon was expected to invest more than $14m in the Greek airbase of Larissa and approximately six million euros ($6.99m) at Marathi, part of the Souda base.
A September 24-25 EU Council meeting, with the Eastern Mediterranean crisis on the agenda, was postponed because the council’s president, Charles Michel, tested positive for the coronavirus. That meeting is now scheduled to take place on October 1-2.