264. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Greece Adherence to Constitutional Timetable and NATO


  • The Secretary
  • Greek Ambassador Vitsaxis
  • Stuart W. Rockwell, Deputy Assistant Secretary, NEA
  • Marion K. Mitchell, NEA/GRK

Ambassador Vitsaxis called at his request to explain the Greek Governmentʼs withdrawal from the Council of Europe2 and to give his Governmentʼs “official assurance” that it will proceed with full implementation of the timetable for restoration of constitutional norms, which it had presented to the members of the Council of Europe and to the U.S.

Noting that he had received a personal message for the Secretary from Foreign Minister Pipinelis, backed up by a message from the Prime Minister, Ambassador Vitsaxis reiterated that Greece will not deviate from the program it has set for return to constitutional government. The dates given in the timetable will be respected, and in fact the Government will try to accelerate the program.

The Ambassador referred to Foreign Minister Pipinelisʼ speech before the Council of Europe in which Pipinelis had analyzed past efforts of his Government and had focused on future prospects. Although Pipinelis rejected the Councilʼs demand for a date for Greek national elections, he reassured the Council that elections will take place and that democracy will be restored. He noted in this connection that the British had reversed themselves in Paris by demanding a date for elections as they had not done before, and he wondered at that. He also rejected a proposal by the German Government that Greece be suspended for a three-month term until it should meet the Councilʼs demands. Mr. Pipinelis was quoted by Ambassador Vitsaxis as saying the Greek departure from the Council of Europe was “a bad thing.”

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Greece wants to be a member of European bodies. The only aspect of the Greek departure, which could be considered good, was that the foreign ministers of the participating countries will no longer face the unpleasantness of having to deal with the Greek case.

The Secretary noted some general apprehension that the Greek question may come to the surface in NATO. He pointed out that it had arisen repeatedly in his recent discussions in Brussels.3 He was sorry that a solution other than the one arrived at could not have been achieved. He had been given to understand that there were a number of derogatory comments in the Human Rights Commissionʼs report to the Committee of Ministers and he asked whether that report had been made public.

Ambassador Vitsaxis confirmed that the Commissionʼs report had not been made public. He noted that the conclusions of the report were substantially: a) that the Communist danger the Greek Government cited as justification for suspending civil liberties in Greece had not been proved. (The Ambassador noted that had been only part of the Greek Governmentʼs argument. It had also pointed to the imminent danger of chaos just prior to the coup); b) regarding the second charge of the practice of “torture” in Greece, Ambassador Vitsaxis claimed that the Commissionʼs conclusions had been badly construed in the press. He maintained that out of 250 cases put forward, the Commission singled out 30, which they considered could be examined prima facie. Of those 30 they pointed in turn to 11 in which “the presumption was strong” that these 11 principals had been mistreated. Further, Ambassador Vitsaxis said that one of the 11 was quoted by the newspaper Libre Belgique two days ago to the effect that his testimony about the Greek Government had been a lie and that he had never been tortured by the Greek Government.

Also with regard to press reports of disagreement between the Greek Government and the ICRC, Ambassador Vitsaxis noted that the International Committee of the Red Cross had issued an official statement on December 5, 1969,4 noting that it had visited a number of prisons in Greece and had met with no impediment on the part of the Greek Government.

The Secretary expressed the hope that the Greek Government could make some substantial moves in the direction of return to constitutional government before the NATO spring meeting. He noted that [Page 677] the U.S. will not bring the Greek question up in that forum but he was afraid that others might do so. He pointed out that it is the impression of a number of countries that time is slipping by and that no real progress is being made in Greece.

Ambassador Vitsaxis said that between now and April some steps are contemplated. He wondered whether there was any way to satisfy Greeceʼs critics other than to fulfill to the letter the pledges the Greek Government had made. He said that whether Greece satisfies these critics depends really on whether the critics want democracy in Greece or a change of government. In the event it is a change of government they want then that must be construed as interference in internal Greek affairs.

Ambassador Vitsaxis noted that the draft law on political parties is now ready, and that the Prime Minister had declared that elections will be announced a year in advance. He said there had been a liberalization of the press, and promised to send a file documenting that point. As regards so-called political prisoners, he noted that some were still under administrative detention because they are considered dangerous. This is not a new situation in Greece. In 1952 there were three times as many in detention as there are now. Most of those still detained have been trained in Moscow and they can be released upon signing a paper that they will do nothing to disturb the public peace and security.

When the Secretary asked whether the Greek Government had thought of issuing a kind of White Paper on the Greek situation Ambassador Vitsaxis said he thought the speech of Foreign Minister Pipinelis before the Council of Europe might constitute such a document and he promised to forward it to the Department.

Regarding Greeceʼs legal position in the Council of Europe, about which the Secretary inquired, Ambassador Vitsaxis noted that Greece is now out of the Council, it is no longer a member. He explained that according to the statutes a member which withdraws can exercise its rights of membership for one year following that withdrawal, but that Greece has abjured that right. Ambassador Vitsaxis would not say that Greece is permanently out of the Council of Europe. He noted that there had been a Council of Europe resolution expressing hope for the return of Greece when political life in Greece would allow that. His personal opinion was that there would be no difficulty in Greeceʼs rejoining the Council at some future date, but he could not give any official position on that.

Ambassador Vitsaxis assured, in conclusion, that there has been no change whatsoever in Greeceʼs attitude to NATO and that Greece will continue as in the past to uphold its NATO commitments.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15 GREECE. Confidential; Limdis. Drafted by Mitchell and approved in S on December 24.
  2. On December 12 Greece withdrew from membership in the Council of Europe. The decision was taken after a majority of member states lined up in support of a German resolution suspending the Greek Government. Pipinelisʼ hour long speech of protest failed to sway member states, and the Greek Foreign Minister then announced the decision to withdraw.
  3. Reference is to discussions held at the NATO Ministerial meeting December 4–5. Documentation is in the National Archives, RG 59, Conference Files, 1966–1969, CF 396.
  4. The report, which was leaked at the end of November, reported on 213 individual cases of the use of torture on prisoners. It is summarized in The New York Times, December 1, 1969.