243. Memorandum of Conversation1
- His Majesty King Constantine
- The Honorable Phillips Talbot
In taking my leave of the King before Washington consultation, I mentioned the prospective visits to Athens of several U.S. Congressional groups. The King said he would particularly like to see Senator Javits and might even challenge him to a tennis match.
The King said he understood Admiral Toumbas had told me about current Greek-Turkish negotiations on Cyprus and had said the time might be approaching when it would be important for the U.S. to exercise some moderating influence on Turkey. I commented that I had asked the Foreign Minister whether he had any particular issue or timing in mind and he had replied not at present. I added that I had gained the impression from the Prime Minister in a separate conversation that the key sticking point seemed to be the status of the Dhekelia sovereign base area. The King said this was his understanding. I asked whether he would expect the negotiations to break down over such an issue as a Turkish base versus a NATO base with Turkish participation. “Absolutely within this room,” he replied, “I have told the Government they can’t let that be the final breaking point. It wouldn’t work to have obtained 95% and stick on the last 5%”. However, he went on, Greece could not accept the present Turkish demand for a Turkish sovereign base combined with demilitarization of the Greek part of the island. One of these two elements would have to be modified. He hoped that the Turks could be persuaded to accept a lease status in Dhekelia. I noted that this might be exceptionally difficult if the Turkish mood continued anything like it was in 1964 when Acheson got nowhere in his effort to persuade the Turks that in today’s volatile world a long-term lease is just as good as sovereignty. The King commented that in any case the two governments were still negotiating on this point. The heartening fact was [Page 517] that both governments seemed now to be showing a sense of urgency. That was new.
If the negotiators should reach an agreement, the King foresaw that the problem for Greece would be how to get a national decision and then, of course, how to deal with “the Priest.” I commented that I had supposed that the Archbishop could be dealt with much more successfully in the context of a Greek-Turkish settlement than when Greece and Turkey were at odds. The King repeated that a Turkish base on Cyprus would be a very difficult thing to make Makarios swallow. On the Greek side, he said, the question was whether Papandreou could be brought along. In any case, the present government could not carry the burden of a settlement alone; the decision would have to be put up to all the parties. If each party were forced to make its stand known to the public, even the “Old Man” (Papandreou) might pause before rejecting it. However, this would not be an easy matter to get over and if worse came to worst Greece would at least show the Turks which elements in Greek political life had sabotaged the settlement.
The King asked whether I thought the British would go along with cession of Dhekelia. He had understood that in the end they would. I said this was also my impression; I had in fact been somewhat worried for fear the British financial crisis might cause a premature movement by London, such as an announcement of future withdrawals similar to that made on Aden, which would reduce the base area’s bargaining importance in the Greek-Turk negotiations. The King said he would try to find an opportunity to caution some people in London about the delicacy of the present situation when he goes there next week.
“And just as soon as the Cyprus issue is settled,” the King added with a twinkling eye, “I’ll make an official visit to the United States.” I said that he would be most welcome at that time, and that I agreed there were good reasons for not planning such a trip while the issue is unresolved.
The King had little to add to the comments he had made to me on October 27 about the Greek domestic situation.2 He expressed himself as very well pleased at the way things had gone in Thessaloniki. The Prime Minister had also been pleased, he said, with his reception in Macedonian villages. Things seemed relatively quiet in the country and if in fact there should be a Cyprus settlement it ought to be possible to move to elections very quickly. I noted that people such as Markezinis felt that elections in the context of a Cyprus settlement would have a different and much healthier flavor than otherwise. The King agreed that in those [Page 518] circumstances public attention could be turned away from the issue unfortunately now so prominent.
The King commented that he had been to the Greek Pentagon for a military briefing and that the projections for 1970–71 showed serious if not critical shortfalls in the Hellenic military proficiency. The projected military assistance program was just not adequate to meet the needs, though he assumed that once Vietnam was settled the prospects might improve. I replied that Vietnam is certainly an important factor in our overall defense posture, but that Congressional attitudes and growing Greek capabilities also have to be considered. On the first, I noted that for reasons good or bad the trend line of military aid, like that of economic aid, is going down. In addition, particular Congressional sensitivity has grown over the military assistance programs to countries seemingly on collision courses with their neighbors. The India-Pakistan war had, of course, stimulated adverse Congressional reactions, but the problems of military assistance to Arab countries and Israel and to Greece and Turkey had also been featured in last year’s Congressional hearings. However, a Greek-Turkish rapprochement might ameliorate that situation. “Yes,” the King responded, “that’s another reason we must get a settlement with Turkey.”
The King said he would be back in Greece on November 16.
- Source: Department of State, Greek Desk Files: Lot 69 D 15, Briefing Book Greece, 1966. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Talbot. The meeting was held at the Palace at Tatoi.↩
- A memorandum of Talbot’s October 27 conversation with the King is ibid. The King gave his opinions on government press subsidies, Karamanlis, and the Aspida affair.↩