269. Telegram From the Embassy in Greece to the Department of State1
4574. Basing myself on State 1678442 and NEA/GRK letter dated April 3,3 I gave King Constantine five-part answer Saturday evening to his question of March 29 whether he could count on United States support should he be forced to undertake a constitutional deviation. I reassured him of continuing United States interest at highest level in Greece’s difficult situation. I said we share his concern over policies that might be adopted by government with Andreas Papandreou as leading figure but believe certain restraints could operate to keep such a government from at least some of extreme measures Andreas now advocating. I expressed our agreement with the King’s hopes that current difficulties can be overcome through parliamentary processes. I stated the inability of USG to [Page 571] give advance assurances of support to King and noted our traditional opposition to dictatorial solutions to constitutional crises. They are wrong in principle and rarely work yet create many new difficulties. A dictatorship in Greece might cause short-term upheavals, leading to more repressive measures, and to coalescence of opposition forces which in turn could be penetrated and dominated by international Communist agents. Adverse international reactions would not be limited to the Communist apparatus but would include supporters of democracy. Considerable criticism could be expected in United States. Finally, I restated as a guiding principle of United States in Eastern Mediterranean our policy to encourage progress and stability in Greece and to maintain close relations with Greece.
The King responded with thanks, but felt many questions remained unanswered. His own key question about risks inherent in a Papandreou victory related to control of the armed forces. He anticipated that a Papandreou government would move rapidly to retire or transfer officers loyal to the King and move Papandreou adherents into positions of trust, thus effectively ending the King’s control of armed forces. This would destroy his ability to keep Greece free and attached to West. He asked whether this is what United States wished.
In response to my prodding the King conceded that constitutional crisis might arise as early as coming week. Kanellopoulos government is scheduled to appear before Parliament and will probably have to dissolve it for lack of vote of confidence. I asked whether this could immediately precipitate question of arresting Andreas Papandreou. King said it could, though no decision to arrest him has been made. Consequences of his arrest should it occur could raise issue whether elections would have to be postponed and Greece ruled for a period by a government without parliamentary sanction.
The King estimated that next critical moment could come in mid- May if ERE party had by then failed to develop electoral lead which Kanellopoulos but few others expect it to achieve. At that point the King would have to decide whether to let elections proceed. At that point also he would want American assurances. Most important of these, he said, would be assurances that Greece would continue to be protected against its northern neighbors, that U.S. would help keep Turkey from taking advantage in Cyprus of Greece’s difficulties, that USG would help American public and other countries understand need to stabilize Greek situation and protect Greece from Communist penetration of sort that almost succeeded in the 1940’s, and that economic assistance would be available to enable the new government to meet basic problems of Greek economy. He asked whether he could get further clarification of USG position.[Page 572]
I emphasized that in other situations, such as in Argentina, where extra-constitutional governments had been imposed, American actions had been different from what he had in mind. I repeated that USG would watch situation closely, but discouraged him from expecting further statement of American position at this time.
It was clear that young King believes his throne and Greece’s attachment to the West to be at stake in this crisis. He has concluded that only near miracle can save him from final choice of yielding his country to Papandreou, or establishing a dictatorship either before or just after elections scheduled in May. More clearly than in any previous conversation, he expressed his dependence on United States for general support. I would anticipate his continuing to ask for American reassurances, with ever shorter deadlines as the scheduled electoral date approaches.
Memcon being pouched.
Comment: We share King’s fear that events in Greece approaching climax. In recent days we have found little if any taste for compromise in any quarter. Should government decide to arrest Andreas Papandreou after dissolution of Parliament, as hard-liners urging, country could be thrown into crisis. For moment, however, most likely course is continuation of Kanellopoulos government and active political campaigning until mid-May. Embassy recommendations of USG actions that could be helpful will follow as situation evolves.