295. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Under Secretary Christos Xanthopoulos-Palamas, Under Secretary, Greek
    Foreign Ministry
  • Basil Vitsaxis, Ambassador of Greece
  • Michael Cottakis, Chef du Cabinet
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President
  • Harold H. Saunders, NSC Staff

Under Secretary Palamas opened the conversation by saying he brought a message of friendship from Greece, from the government and from the people. Lately, he felt, there had been some rather hopeful developments. Always there has been friendship in Greece for the United States, although there have been some rough spots in our relationship. However, the re-establishment of full military shipments and the visit of Secretary Laird had been important demonstrations of U.S. interest in the area. There are really two important sides of the problem in that area—the NATO element in Europe and in the Eastern Mediterranean and then the problems beyond in the Middle East. The Greek government considers it an asset that U.S. policy shows strength in both parts of this area. Greece feels that this will help improve the political climate in the Balkans. It is not possible to separate the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. The Greek people, owing to the trip of the President to the Mediterranean, know that the Americans have decided to play a strong role in this area and are pleased that the USSR will have to take that into account.

Dr. Kissinger said he felt the Under Secretaryʼs statement of the situation was generally correct as was his characterization of the purpose of the Presidentʼs trip.

Under Secretary Palamas said there were two points on which he wished to know Dr. Kissingerʼs views. The first was how he viewed NATO as a factor in the Mediterranean.

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Dr. Kissinger said he wished to say at the outset that the U.S. greatly appreciated the cooperation of Greece in the recent period. The sense that we could count on Greek cooperation helped us in the formulation of our own policy. Going on, he felt that it is difficult to distinguish NATO Europe and the Middle East. The U.S. remains committed to NATO. We will, as was said at Naples,2 not unilaterally reduce our commitment without consulting with our allies. With the increase in strategic weapons, the forces available to NATO should be strengthened rather than reduced.

Under Secretary Palamas asked whether Dr. Kissinger expected the same view from the allies. He said that Greeceʼs troubles in NATO seemed to be starting to subside, even with the Scandinavians. This is one more aspect among recent developments which is favorable. The key question in Greek minds is whether in a crisis the NATO Council would be a good vehicle for decision.

Dr. Kissinger asked whether the Under Secretary had an alternative organization in mind.

The Under Secretary said that he did not. Greece always felt the alternative would be what the U.S. could do by itself.

Dr. Kissinger said that personally he found it hard to imagine that if Greece was attacked we would let assistance be vetoed by Denmark, for instance.

Under Secretary Palamas replied that Greece trusts the U.S.

Dr. Kissinger said it was incredible to him that the U.S. would stand idly by while Greece was being attacked.

Under Secretary Palamas said that at the same time Greece is trying to smooth its relationship with its neighbors. He then asked how Dr. Kissinger viewed the situation in the Middle East.

Dr. Kissinger said it looked as if circumstances favored the extension of the Arab-Israeli cease-fire. The U.S. certainly does. He did not feel that any country would want to be responsible for breaking it, even the UAR.

Under Secretary Palamas said the Greek communities in the Arab world give Greece an unusual position there. There are twenty-five thousand in the UAR. There are technicians in Libya, and the Libyans have asked for technical assistance in maintaining some of their aircraft.

Dr. Kissinger said there are many problems in the Middle East. The Arab-Israeli problem is the most immediate, but there also the problems of the future of the Persian Gulf and of the various radical [Page 743] movements in the area. During the Jordan crisis, one of the purposes of the U.S. was to demonstrate that we could not be pushed out of the area.

The Under Secretary asked whether Dr. Kissinger felt the Suez Canal would be opened.3

Dr. Kissinger replied that he thought it would be if there were a peace settlement. He could not exclude its opening without a peace settlement. There is some chance that Israel might be interested at some point.

The Under Secretary said that Greece is not directly involved in the Middle East problem. It is not possible to find a general solution of the problem but there might be sectors of the problem which are susceptible of solution. He felt that the situation is improved now in Jordan and that it was good that Husseinʼs hand had been reinforced. When the Under Secretary noted the difficulties caused by the Fedayeen, Dr. Kissinger replied that it is difficult enough to negotiate with governments; it seems all but impossible to negotiate with non-governmental forces such as those.

Under Secretary Palamas noted the possibility of turning the West Bank into a Palestinian state, and Dr. Kissinger replied that there was some fear that the Palestinians would try to destroy Israel if they had their own state.

The Under Secretary said it will be important how the UAR develops. Greece has its own information that there is an increase in anti-Soviet feeling there.

Dr. Kissinger agreed that it is hard to imagine that the Nationalists in the UAR are anxious to trade British imperialism for Soviet imperialism.

The Under Secretary agreed that there had been a natural reaction against the Soviets, “who are everywhere.”

Dr. Kissinger asked how the Under Secretary would explain the violations of the standstill agreement in the UAR. Dr. Kissinger said he could not understand why the UAR had not waited until a deadlock had developed in the talks before violating the agreement.

When the Under Secretary asked whether the violations were important, Dr. Kissinger said that they were “massive.” There are large numbers of sites that did not exist before the cease-fire came into effect; there are sites that had been started before the cease-fire and had been completed since; there are sites that were completed before the cease-fire but which had had no missiles in them and now did have [Page 744] missiles in them. At first, Dr. Kissinger said he thought that the violations were technical, but as time passed and our knowledge of them became clearer it became impossible to describe them that way. Also, these violations, we think, would have been impossible without the Russians. Moreover, there has been no attempt at concealment.

The Under Secretary asked how Dr. Kissinger evaluated the Soviet move.

Dr. Kissinger replied that the Soviets must feel that an Israel alive is better than an Israel dead. The Soviets, however, may not know how to apply enough power to push Israel back without killing Israel.

The Under Secretary said that the Soviets, it seemed to him, wanted to avoid war but not to have peace. Greeks are concerned about the increase in pressure on Greece as a result of Mid-Eastern developments. There is the question of the Straits and the need of the Soviets for free communication. He feared that the enhanced Soviet position in the Middle East would bring Greece under increased pressure as the Soviet need to keep open its lines of communication became more pressing. It has always been a Soviet dream to be in the Mediterranean. The fleet was not so dangerous but it was a base for Soviet operations.

Dr. Kissinger replied that the fleet is dangerous to Israel and a nuisance to the U.S. The U.S. could probably destroy the Soviet fleet in the Mediterranean at some price.

The Under Secretary said that the question of the Soviets having a permanent establishment on the ground in the Mid-East is of important concern to Greece. Dr. Kissinger replied that we are going to be very insistent in any peace settlement to bring to their attention the inappropriateness of such a permanent Soviet establishment.

Changing the subject, Dr. Kissinger said that we sometimes tend to harass the Greeks about their internal problems, “which I will not do.” At the same time, he hoped that the Greeks would remember U.S. problems. The U.S. ability to work with Greece is affected by the internal climate in the U.S., and that in turn is affected by developments in Greece. The Under Secretary said that the U.S. has a friendly government in Greece. Governments change but people remain friendly. There is a real feeling of friendship among the people of Greece.

Dr. Kissinger, concluding the conversation, said that when he was in Greece in 1961 he enjoyed himself very much, and the conversation ended with a series of pleasantries.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 593, Country Files—Middle East, Greece, Vol. I Jan 69–Oct 70. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in Kissingerʼs office. In an attached memorandum requesting Kissingerʼs approval of the memorandum of conversation, Davis recommended distribution to the Department of State. Kissinger, however, initialed the box disapproving distribution.
  2. For text of the Presidentʼs September 30 statement, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 786–787.
  3. The Canal had been closed since the June 1967 war between Egypt and Israel.