Pompeo makes Cyprus stop to end East Med crisis

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Cyprus on Saturday to seek a peaceful end to mounting eastern Mediterranean tensions as he called on Turkey to disengage.

Pompeo will hold talks in Cyprus after a trip to Doha where he will help inaugurate long-awaited talks between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban.

The top US diplomat said his trip to Cyprus would complement phone calls by President Donald Trump with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The dispute “has to be resolved in a way that’s diplomatic and peaceful,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane.

“So, I’ll be working on that project as well, trying to make sure that I understand the risks that are associated from the people of Cyprus’ perspective.”

Pompeo credited Germany with seeking to lower tensions. France has also been active on the maritime rift and has staunchly backed Greece and Cyprus.

“We hope there will be real conversations and we hope the military assets that are there will be withdrawn so that these conversations can take place,” Pompeo said.

Turkey, which is hunting for gas and oil reserves in waters claimed by fellow NATO member Greece, last month deployed an exploration vessel backed by military frigates.

Greece responded with naval exercises as a warning.

Pompeo’s trip comes shortly after the United States had lifted a decades-old arms embargo on Cyprus, outraging Turkey.

The move was aimed at bringing stability to the divided island but critics said it had the opposite effect, pushing Cyprus to cooperate with other nations such as Russia.

Pompeo’s unscheduled visit comes only days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was in Cyprus to underscore closer ties between Nicosia and Moscow.

Russia has also offered to play peacemaker to ease Cyprus-Turkey friction over maritime and energy rights if the parties agree.

Turkey has occupied the north of Cyprus since 1974, when it invaded in response to a coup engineered by military leaders in Athens seeking to unify the majority-Greek island with Greece.

Pompeo cancelled a trip planned to Cyprus earlier this year as tensions soared between the United States and Iran. (source AFP)