US, Greece sign revised defense cooperation agreement

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The United States and Greece on Saturday signed a revised defense cooperation pact, which Americans officials described as critical to responding to new security challenges in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The deal provides for increasing joint U.S.-Greece and NATO activity at Larissa, Stefanovikio, and Alexandroupoli as well as infrastructure and other improvements at the Souda Bay naval base.

"Greece can play an important strategic role here in the region," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. "This is a dynamic region, with lots going on, lots of change taking place, and we are very confident that together, we can work to ensure that Greece can be a pillar for stability in this region."

Mitsotakis referred to recent attempts by Turkey to drill for gas in waters where Cyprus has exclusive economic rights and European energy companies are already licensed to conduct a search. He said the need for the updated agreement was underscored by actions in the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean that "question the sovereign rights of Greece and Cyprus, violating international law."

"We've made clear that operations in international waters are governed by a set of rules," Pompeo said later after meeting with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias.

"We have told the Turks that illegal drilling is unacceptable, and we'll continue to take diplomatic action to make sure that we do as we do always: ensure that the lawful activity takes place in every space where international law governs. ... We're working to get ... everyone to de-escalate and find a set of outcomes that are mutually agreeable," Pompeo added.

Two protests were staged in Athens against Pompeo's meeting Saturday. The largest, by pro-communist trade unionists, was attended by 5,000 people, according to local police, and ended outside the U.S. Embassy, where protesters burned American and NATO flags before dispersing.

On the way, protesters twice threw paint at the statue of a former American president, Harry S. Truman, who had helped Greece overcome a communist insurgency in the late 1940s. Police responded with tear gas.