Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrapped up a historic visit to Greece, thanking his hosts in Greek with a Tweet and leaving the country with a badly-needed message of support from an important ally.
Although barely mentioned directly in public statements, the message to Turkey was loud and clear.
Such visits to Greece by U.S. officials in the past were always followed or preceded by a visit to Turkey, according to a State Department official who asked to remain anonymous because she wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter.
“Planning a Greece visit by any low or high level diplomat always included a parallel trip to Turkey,” the official told The Pappas Post in an email exchange, adding that “This was to show our balance in the region and not anger the Turks.”
But it appears that American patience with Turkey may be wearing thin.
Pompeo landed in Thessaloniki where he met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias.
Developments in the wider Eastern Mediterranean region were high on the agenda of Pompeo’s talks with Dendias as Greece, the U.S., France and other nations have expressed consternation over Ankara’s military moves in the region, including violations of maritime borders in the region and Ankara’s purchase of Russian-made military equipment.
A wide-ranging statement of cooperation between the two nations was shared after the official meetings, including matters of security, counter-terrorism, education, energy– even film production.
Pompeo’s schedule also included participation in a round table discussion on energy attended by numerous Greek officials and a highly symbolic visit to the local Jewish museum, where Pompeo and his wife were lead on a tour by the leaders of the local Jewish community, which lost 90% of its members during the Holocaust.
U.S. Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt captured the symbolism and significance of the visit, which occurred on an important Jewish holiday, in a Tweet.
“Very moved to commemorate #YomKippur in the memorial hall at the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki, a reminder of the many lives lost during the Holocaust. The US stands against anti-Semitism in all forms, and we will continue to work with Greece to advocate for religious freedom” Pyatt Tweeted.
Pompeo appeared moved during the visit, learning about the near-decimation of Thessaloniki’s ancient Jewish community.
“In recognition of Yom Kippur, I am honored to pay my respects at the Thessaloniki Jewish Museum, which commemorates the city’s once-vibrant Jewish community. The U.S. remains committed to fighting anti-Semitism and promoting religious tolerance and freedom,” Pompeo Tweeted after the visit.
Pompeo’s delegation also traveled to Crete to visit the Souda Bay naval base, situated outside the town of Hania, on the island’s western side. The base is an important U.S. naval outpost in the eastern Mediterranean and was once the focus of angry anti-U.S. demonstrations in the 1980s when then Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou promised to closed the base.
Speaking from an airplane hangar, Pompeo said relations between the United States and Greece were “at an all-time high and getting stronger.”
He also announced that the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, a massive U.S. Navy ship with a crew of thousands, will be based out of Souda Bay.
“It’s literally the perfect choice in light of the facility’s strategic location. And it’s symbolic of a defense partnership that will continue to expand and to grow,” Pompeo said.
The State Department published the joint remarks delivered by Secretary Pompeo, as well as Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Souda Bay.
The American delegation also visited numerous historic sites, including the Ancient settlement of Aptera, outside Hania and an early Christian monastery.
As Pompeo departed early Wednesday for the next leg of his journey, he sent an expression of thanks to his Greek hosts, in Greek nonetheless, Tweeting his appreciation to Mitsotakis for his hospitality.
“Ευχαριστώ to @PrimeministerGR for showing me the true meaning of Greek hospitality. The U.S.-Greece relationship is built on a strong foundation of people-to-people ties, a testament to our countries’ shared values and enduring friendship,” Pompeo Tweeted.
Meanwhile, across the Aegean, Turkey appeared irked by all of the attention and flattery Pompeo was spreading in Greece.
Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party spokesperson Omer Celik said Pompeo had “lost his impartiality” in the dispute by visiting Greece two times in a month and ignoring Turkish Cypriots during a visit to Cyprus.
“You cannot serve peace in the region by visiting only the Greek side on the island (of Cyprus), by paying two visits to Greece, and by making one-sided statements of support,” Celik told reporters. “We believe that there is a need for a return to a balanced policy.”
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