SOÚDA, Greece: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said his country strongly backed talks between Greece and Turkey to de-escalate tensions over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
He also called for an end to fighting between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces in the breakaway region of Nagorny Karabakh and a return to negotiations “as quickly as possible.”
Pompeo is on a two-day visit to Greece – his second in a year – aimed at easing tensions between Greece and Turkey.
The two countries have spent weeks at loggerheads after Ankara sent exploration vessels into disputed, potentially resource-rich waters in a crisis that roped in other European powers and raised concern about a wider escalation.
“We strongly support dialogue between NATO allies Greece and Turkey and encourage them to resume discussion of these issues as soon as possible,” he said after visiting the NATO base of Souda Bay on Crete with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
On Wednesday, Pompeo will fly to Rome for meetings with Italian government and Vatican officials. He will subsequently visit Croatia on Friday.
Pompeo and Mitsotakis had earlier spoken to Souda base commanders and boarded a US special forces CCM speedboat and a Greek frigate, prior to a sit-down meeting.
Washington has urged the NATO allies and neighbors, who have agreed to continue exploratory talks interrupted in 2016, to find “good solutions” to regional disputes exacerbated by energy exploration disagreements.
“We hope the exploratory talks not only get kicked off right, but it’s important that they’re resolved in a way that delivers outcomes that each of the two nations find more than acceptable,” Pompeo told Greek state agency ANA on Monday.
“It’s not just talking, we need to get to good solutions,” he added.
In a joint statement on Monday after talks in Thessaloniki in northern Greece, Pompeo and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias said rival claims to territory in the Mediterranean should be resolved “peacefully in accordance with international law.”
The 44-hectare Naval Support Activity base at Souda is the foremost US naval facility in the eastern Mediterranean.
Mitsotakis — who is hosting Pompeo at his family home in Crete — wants closer military ties with the United States.
Pompeo last October signed a defense agreement with Greek authorities allowing US forces a broader use of Greek military facilities.
Greece intends to further upgrade the naval facilities at Souda for its own navy operations, Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told parliament on Monday.
“Our country wants to make its presence felt in the eastern Mediterranean, and this will be done through the upgrade of Souda,” Panagiotopoulos said, according to ANA.
On Tuesday, Pompeo also called for an end to fighting between separatists in the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorny Karabakh and Azerbaijani forces.
“Both sides must stop the violence and work with the Minsk group ... to return to substantive negotiations as quickly as possible,” Pompeo said, referring to the so-called Minsk Group of mediators that includes France, Russia and the United States.
At least 95 people have been killed in the clashes that have been raging since the weekend, including 11 civilians, according to the latest available tallies.