173. Airgram From the Embassy in Greece to the Department of State1



  • Conversation with King Constantine

I met with King Constantine, at his request, on the afternoon of January 27. The King apparently had no special reason for asking me to see him, other than to exchange views on the general political and economic situation affecting Greece. The King observed that things were “in a mess” referring both to the internal Greek scene and to Cyprus.

Internal Political Problems

King Constantine remarked that there was much talk about the spread of communism within Greece, and while he thought there had [Page 352] been some growth in the activity and boldness of the extreme left which caused him concern, he believed the press comment and other talk on the subject was exaggerated. I said that our observations led us to a similar conclusion although we agreed that the matter should be carefully watched.

Constantine then said that some people (unidentified) had wanted him to act against the Papandreou Government but he did not consider a move in this direction wise or practicable, at least at this time. There was no one on the scene who could replace Papandreou, as the latter still had a strong popular appeal among the Greek people. He went so far as to say that if he should try to unseat the Prime Minister now, Papandreou would “go into the streets.”

The King then commented on the appointment of Tsirimokos as Minister of Interior. He recalled a meeting some time ago with Papandreou in which the latter had volunteered that he would never appoint Tsirimokos to the Interior Ministry.2 Later, when the Prime Minister came to him to say that he wanted to make that very appointment, the King sought to elicit the reasons for Papandreou’s change of heart, but he could obtain no satisfactory explanation except “political desirability.” Constantine said that he tried to argue the Prime Minister out of making the appointment but that, although he felt the latter came close to giving in, he finally stood his ground saying that it would cause him to lose face if it should become known that he had given in to the King on this particular issue. Constantine observed to Papandreou that “if the King should happen to have a good idea once in a while there was no reason to reject it just because he was the King.” But the Prime Minister stood firm and the appointment was made.

The King told me that he had initially considered standing up to Papandreou over the Tsirimokos appointment, forcing the Prime Minister’s resignation. However, he sensed that a possible trap was being laid for him and he was not sufficiently sure that he could win if he stood his ground.

As he seemed to be desirous of some reaction from me on this, I observed that I could well understand the importance of his being reasonably sure of success before taking on the Prime Minister. I told him that I had been approached by persons suggesting that the King should unseat the government and that my reply had been that I thought the circumstances not propitious and that if the King acted prematurely he could do the regime irreparable harm. I went on to say that there might well come [Page 353] a time when he would feel he must act, but I cautioned him not to do anything hastily. He agreed and then said that if Papandreou should “tamper with the Army as he has with the gendarmerie,” he would definitely make this an issue and would call for the Prime Minister’s resignation.

I inquired whether there were any indications that the Prime Minister is contemplating any such action against the Army Officer Corps, but the King did not think this was in the cards at the moment. He mentioned that Papandreou had at one point wanted to move Garoufalias from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Coordination but both the King and Garoufalias had objected.

We then spoke of the deterioration of the general economic situation in Greece. The King’s views coincided with those of the Embassy; namely, that whereas there has been some deterioration and will doubtless be more, a real disenchantment with Papandreou among the public because of failure of his economic policies will not be felt for some months at least. The King then observed that meanwhile the main problem was to maintain and strengthen the forces of law and order to offset possible increased boldness from the extreme left.

Concerning the opposition party ERE, the King said that it was holding together but that there was no outstanding leader who could inspire the people.


I asked the King what Grivas was doing in Athens, to which he replied that he was here to “seek more authority.” Grivas apparently wishes more authority over the Greek forces in Cyprus and also is asking for some additional Greek officers to assist him with the Greek Cypriot forces. The King does not believe that the additional authority will be given him, but made no further comment about the additional officers.

Grivas had called on the King that morning and, during the conversation, Constantine asked Grivas whether Cyprus would accept the Acheson plan at this time. Grivas reportedly replied that although he personally was more receptive now than he had been, he could not persuade the Cypriot people “to go that far.”

The King then went on to stress the point he has made during previous conversations with me that the deterioration of the situation in Greece was partly due to the continued Cyprus crisis and that it was most important that an early solution be found. I agreed, pointing out the various efforts we had made to encourage an agreed solution and repeating again our position concerning the necessity for the parties themselves to get together for talks. I told him that I saw no possibility of any solution coming from the UNGA debates, stressing the limitations of power in the General Assembly on this issue. He said that it was because [Page 354] he realized that nothing would probably come out of the General Assembly discussion that he thought other efforts should be made.

He then said that he was searching in his own mind for some possible way out of the impasse and went on to outline a proposal which was thoroughly confusing. He inquired what would happen if Makarios could be persuaded “to declare Cyprus independent, asking all troops to leave the island and saying that he would thereafter negotiate with the Turkish Government re one or two bases.” Wen I looked somewhat surprised at this proposal, he hastened to add that if Makarios would not act along these lines, possibly Grivas could set him aside and he could make the declaration. He added that he of course realized that nothing like this could be done without US approval, tacit or otherwise. I said that the proposal struck me as quite impracticable: in the first place I understood that Cyprus was independent, and secondly, that I could not imagine the Turks being willing to withdraw their contingent from the island against some promise of future negotiations. I pointed out that this was a far cry from the Acheson plan of last August and that Turkey had even rejected that. Therefore, I did not believe this a saleable proposition. I tried to probe to find out whether or not there was something else the King had in mind, or whether some suggestion had been made to him by Grivas or others about the possibility of Grivas displacing Makarios, but the results were negative.

It appears possible, judging from other comments we have heard in recent days, that Grivas may have been entertaining thoughts of attempting a coup somewhat along these lines. However, as we have reported, it does not appear that the Government has been willing to go along with him. In recent talks with the Foreign Minister, he has been categoric in asserting that Greece will take no action to upset the present calm on the island.

Comment: The King is a young man of good will sincerely troubled by the political situation and eager to advance Greek interests. His enthusiasm, his desire to be helpful, his inexperience and the fact that he is naturally the target of many persons seeking to promote partisan interest make it especially important to weigh with caution his suggestions for action. Moreover, the narrower interest of the Crown as well as the broader interest of Greek internal political stability require that his initiatives be prudent and made only after mature reflection. During the first year of his reign, he has, on balance, handled himself with skill and with restraint. I shall continue to encourage him to act in this manner.

Henry R. Labouisse
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15–1 GREECE. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Labouisse.
  2. Elias Tsirimokos, former leader of the Democratic Union Party, was a critic of U.S. policies in Greece with ties to EDA. Labouisse reported on his discussions with Papandreou on the Tsirimokos appointment in telegram 1103 from Athens, January 21. (Ibid., POL US–GREECE) Tsirimokos became Minister of the Interior in February 1964.