- Associated Press - Thursday, January 30, 2020

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Greek lawmakers ratified an agreement with the United States on Thursday to significantly expand military cooperation as Greece faces escalating tensions with neighboring Turkey.

Members of parliament voted 175-33 to ratify the Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in October by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit to Athens.

The deal provides for increased joint U.S.-Greece and NATO activities at Greek military bases and facilities in Larissa, Stefanovikio, and Alexandroupolis, in central and northern Greece, as well as infrastructure and other improvements at the Souda Bay U.S. naval base on the island of Crete.

The U.S. Air Force is already operating MQ-9 Reaper drones out of Larissa airbase.

“This is for the mutual benefit of our defense and our economies,” conservative lawmaker Ioannis Lambropoulos said in parliament ahead of the vote. “At a time when we are receiving threats to our sovereignty, we are seeking the support of our allies.”

Greece is locked in a dispute with NATO ally Turkey over maritime boundaries and oil-and-gas drilling rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as over war-torn Libya.

Emerging from a protracted financial crisis, Greece is planning multiple upgrades to its armed forces, concentrating on its air force and naval capabilities, largely with U.S. and French defense firms.

The government has expressed interest in purchasing MQ-9 Guardian drones and well as joining the F-35 fighter program at a later date. The plans were discussed at a White House visit earlier this month by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Greece’s left-wing main opposition party said it favored expanded defense cooperation with the United States but its lawmakers didn’t vote in favor of ratifying the deal, arguing that Athens should first seek a more comprehensive commitment of support from the United States against Turkey’s actions.

The Greek Communist Party organized protest rallies in the capital and cities across the country to oppose the deal, arguing that Greece would be “dragged into dangerous overseas adventures.” The protests ended peacefully. ___

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