Greek parliament approves defence pact change on eve of PM's visit to U.S.

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FILE PHOTO: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks during an event in Alexandroupolis

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's parliament approved the renewal and amendment of a defence cooperation agreement with the United States on Thursday, days before Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits Washington.

The conservative premier is scheduled to meet President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday and the two leaders are expected to discuss the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and tensions in the Mediterranean.

The U.S.-Greece Mutual Defence Cooperation Agreement (MDCA), first signed in 1990, allows U.S. forces to train and operate in Greek territory.

The latest amendment, agreed in 2021, extends the cooperation by allowing the presence of U.S. forces in four more military areas, including two army camps in central and northern Greece and a naval base on the island of Crete.

Mitsotakis told parliament the agreement shields the country against security threats, will allow an upgrade of military facilities and is a vote of confidence for Greece, which is becoming an energy hub in the region after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"The text (of the agreement) we are called to ratify ... depicts a new reality," Mitsotakis said. "The U.S. is extending its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean ... and our country becomes in the clearest way the main partner and interlocutor of the United States in the region."

He said the agreement grows in importance against the backdrop of the war in Europe.

Leftist protesters marched in central Athens against the ratification of the pact.

Greece believes the agreement, which will remain in force for at least five years, will also help protect it against "threats" at its northern land border with Turkey and in the Eastern Mediterranean, where there are long standing territorial disputes between the two NATO allies.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called the agreement "the bedrock" of defence cooperation between Greece and the United States.

Mitsotakis will address the U.S. Congress on May 17.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou; editing by Grant McCool)

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