271. Telegram From the Embassy in Greece to the Department of State1

1076. Subject: Meeting with Lt. Colonel Dimitrios Ioannidis.

On March 4 I had a private talk with Lt. Colonel Dimitrios Ioannidis who was a prime mover in the 21 April 1967 Revolution, is a key member of the Revolutionary Council, and as director of military police is responsible for the reliability of the Greek army. His organization acts as the eyes and ears of the regime in the armed forces and investigates any signs of anti-regime conspiracies involving the army—including both active and retired officers. I would stress the sensitive nature of his comments to us.
I took the opportunity to speak with him very frankly about the importance of meaningful progress toward implementing the 1968 Constitution, and the detrimental effect to Greek prestige abroad of apparently arbitrary arrests and the detention of retired army officers who have distinguished military and anti-Communist records.
In a far-ranging discussion of the security aspects of implementing the 1968 Constitution, I was able to lead him over such issues as the ability of the regime to maintain security without martial law by the strict enforcement of existing civil laws. Ioannidis accepted that martial law could gradually be dispensed with, although he avoided committing himself to a date. He said that martial law is now applied less and less, and that period of calm “without bombs” would permit the regime to end it. He tried to justify martial law as preventing the return of petty political quarreling and thus promoting reconciliation of old hatreds. He agreed with my analysis that the 1968 Constitution included strong safeguards against abuse by irresponsible political elements and provided a framework in which new political institutions could safely evolve.
Ioannidis made the point that many of the younger army officers are very forceful in expressing to him their fears and anxieties about any return to the past. He said that implementing the Constitution means to him the holding of elections. The country is not yet ready for elections which the younger officers would certainly oppose as a return to the past. The regime does not want rigged elections, and he does not believe that Prime Minister Papadopoulos wants to be the leader of a political party.
Ioannidis then developed the theme of reconciliation of old divisions within the country and said that a dialog was now becoming possible between the regime and its opponents—namely the old politicians. However, by way of criticizing the old politicians as selfish, he said he had recently had an indirect approach from Evangelos Averof2 proposing the rule for a few more years without elections by the present regime plus Averof and Spyridon Markezinis—but excluding all the other politicians. Throughout, Ioannidis showed a strong desire that the 21 April revolution should appear in history as beneficial to Greece and that the democratic successor to the present regime should be strong and healthy.
Ioannidis made a strong case for the Greek armyʼs need of new and modern weapons. He said that the Greek people would make sacrifices if necessary to buy them. However, no matter what happened about military aid, the United States could count on the love and respect of the Greek people.
I described to Ioannidis the harm that was done to the prestige of the Greek regime by acts in the name of security which aroused protests abroad from cultural, scientific, or journalistic groups, among which fraternal bonds are strong. Ioannidis acknowledged the argument, but vigorously defended himself as follows:
The thirty cashiered officers who are being held by the military police are not being held without charge. The charges, however, have not been made public, which is perfectly legal by Greek military law—when a conspiracy against the security of the state is under investigation—and even by Greek civil law when the court so orders.
His action in detaining rather than bringing the arrested officers to a speedy trial is “moderate” and humane. “Due process of law” would mean a court martial which would deprive these officers of their pensions and no doubt hand down severe prison sentences—to the great hardship of these officers and their families.
As a further example, he said that ex-deputies John Tsirimokos and Cleanthis Damianos had confessed to putting out with Averof an illegal anti-regime publication and to conspiring with Averof to burn down the military court house. Because of a regime desire to reconcile old differences, however, none of these politicians would be courtmartialed—and Averof might have legally received twenty years for his part had he been brought to trial.
In response to my strong plea for an Easter amnesty—in the spirit of resurrection—for the anti-Communist officers now detained, [Page 692] he said he would consider so recommending, but that these officers had already benefited from a previous amnesty (for their 13 December 1967 acts). When released then they had signed statements foreswearing any intention of opposing the regime by force. He stressed, however, that such acts of magnanimity must be at Greek initiative, and for Greek reasons and not appear to follow foreign pressure. I concurred fully with this thought.
I told him that I would not intervene in matters of internal security—which is a Greek problem—but as the representative of an old ally, I wished to give him friendly advice as to the need to strike a balance between the security needs of the country, which might call for someoneʼs arrest, and the damage to Greeceʼs reputation abroad, which the arrest might cause. It might be better at times to accept a minor security risk rather than arrest someone and then creating hostile feelings toward Greece among her allies.
Ioannidis spoke of the need for greater economic and educational progress before democracy could be restored, but listened attentively to my counter arguments on the need for giving youth a chance to participate more directly in national and public life as equally important as economic progress in protecting against a resurgence of communism.
In general, Ioannidis impressed me as tough within a modest and polite exterior. He appears to see issues in fairly stark black-and white terms, to hold very strong convictions about what is best for Greece and to be a man of considerable tenacity and self-confidence. His expressions of good will toward the United States and his advocacy of reconciliation of all anti-Communist elements in Greece seemed very genuine. On arrival he said that the way to persuade a Greek to do something is to let him believe it is his own idea. I believe that Ioannidisʼ receptivity to some of the points we subsequently discussed augers well for his taking up at least some of them as his own.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL GREECE–US. Confidential; Limdis.
  2. Evangelos Averof was a former Greek Foreign Minister and leader of the ERE.