Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Secretary of State


Subject: Visit of Greek Ambassador To Discuss Greek Question

Participants: Vassili Dendramis, Ambassador of Greece
The Acting Secretary
Mr. Baxter1GTI

The Greek Ambassador called today to pay his respects before leaving for two weeks of consultation in Athens. He said that he would like to hear any views which I might wish to express on the present coalition Government and any available information on our plans for future aid to Greece.

I explained that I had no special message or recommendations concerning the Greek Government. It has always been our position, as has been made clear on many occasions in the past, that the composition of the Greek Government is a matter for decision by the Greeks themselves. Our concern is that Greece should have a Government which can and is willing to assume the responsibilities of a sovereign power, which can act vigorously and efficiently to improve conditions in Greece, both economically and militarily. We have, quite frankly, been disturbed by the continuing inability or refusal of Greek political leaders to put aside narrow party ambitions in favor of broad national interests. It should be obvious that the very best conceivable government would be none too good for the job at hand in Greece. However, on too many occasions the Greek Government has proved unable to perform the normal functions of a sovereign government in coping with purely internal problems, and has shown a discouraging tendency to consider that the only way to overcome any internal difficulty is to obtain increased American aid. Greece must accept its own legitimate responsibilities and be able to take care of itself when American assistance comes to an end. We have put a great deal of money into Greece during the past two years, particularly in relation to the size and population of the country. Current aid to Greece is being expended at the rate of approximately one million dollars a day, higher even than the rate for China. It must be admitted that the results have not been very encouraging. When we request appropriations from Congress for foreign assistance, we will need to be very frank about past performance, and therefore many of the discouraging factors in the Greek picture [Page 232]will be brought out in the open. It should be clear to the Greek Government that the United States cannot carry Greece indefinitely. Unless it can be shown that the Greeks are doing all in their power to solve their internal problems, the United States may have to decide whether the money allotted to Greece might not be used to better advantage elsewhere in the world.

When the Ambassador asked if I considered the present size of Greek armed forces sufficient to meet the guerrilla threat, I pointed out that, though I am no military expert, our officials in Greece are agreed that the present Greek Military Establishment, as now equipped, is adequate to the situation if it were well commanded and led. The failure to break the back of the guerrilla movement during the past year is mainly due, according to our reports, to a lack of leadership and morale. I referred to specific instances in the Grammos and Vitsi campaigns2 when several divisions had either refused to fight or had retreated without adequate cause. The present size of the Greek armed forces, including the increase of 15,000 approved after General Marshall’s visit to Greece,3 is very large indeed for a country the size of Greece. The Greek Army also possesses great superiority in numbers and equipment over the guerrillas, who have not increased in number during the past year. The solution would appear to lie in increasing the efficiency and determination of the present national forces, rather than by injudicious and economically crippling augmentation of the number of men under arms.

I told the Ambassador that we are also disturbed by the rapid increase in the number of refugees, which within a little over a year has grown from 300,000 to the present alarming total of 700,000, I cannot tell, of course, what has caused this, or whether it indicates a lack of confidence of the Greek people in the Government and the Government’s ability to meet the military situation. However, in view of the fact that the guerrillas control no larger areas of Greece than they did a year ago, this unexplained rise in the number of refugees suggests that something is wrong which calls for urgent correction.

As for the amount of aid for Greece and Turkey which the Department intends to request of Congress for the coming year, I told the Ambassador that I could not give him any specific figures at this [Page 233]time. This matter is now under consideration in the Bureau of the Budget, where the Greek-Turkish estimates are still lumped together in a contingency fund that includes assistance to other countries, such as China.

The Ambassador showed me a ticker story just received from London reporting that the signing of an Atlantic Pact is scheduled for early spring and will perhaps take place on a ship in mid-Atlantic; that Eire, Iceland, and Portugal are to be invited to join the Association; and that in all probability invitations will likewise be extended to Italy, Greece, and Turkey.4 I said that, as far as I knew, there is no truth to any of this press report. Such Mediterranean countries as Greece and Turkey could certainly not be considered a part of the North Atlantic family of nations. Furthermore, the preliminary nature of current discussions on this subject do not permit the scheduling of any meeting to “conclude a pact.” When the Ambassador mentioned the possibility of a separate Mediterranean Pact, as has been previously advocated by Mr. Tsaldaris, I said I had no views to express on such an eventuality. It is for the Mediterranean countries themselves to decide whether they wish to be associated in a regional grouping.

  1. William O. Baxter, Assistant Chief, Division of Greek, Turkish, and Iranian Affairs.
  2. The references here are presumably to the Greek National Army offensive against the guerrillas in the Grammos Mountains in June, July, and August 1948 and the subsequent guerrilla attack in the Vitsi Mountain area.
  3. George C. Marshall, Secretary of State from January 1947 to January 1949, visited Athens from October 16 to 18, 1948. For records of the visit see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. iv, pp. 161168. The retirement of Secretary Marshall, who was ill, was announced on January 7, 1949. Dean G. Acheson took office as Secretary of State on January 20 and James E. Webb succeeded Robert Lovett as Under Secretary of State.
  4. For documentation on the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, see vol. iv, pp. 1 ff.