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

624. Subj: U.S. policy towards Greece: U.S. security interests should be our main concern in coming year.

Summary: As year 1971 begins, fluid political situation produced by Prime Ministerʼs announcement of liberalization measures in April seems to be hardening. Number of uncertainties remain, but broad outline of future situation has begun to emerge. We view Prime Ministerʼs December 19 speech (Athens 6808)2 as logical outcome of developments following his announced course of liberalization measures. Prime Minister may have run into serious trouble in moving ahead at rate he proposed. He now seems to have overcome, at least temporarily, his opposition within the regime. We regard his statement that there will be no change in political situation in 1971 as assuaging the hard-line opposition and a call for army to back him in his effort to maintain and consolidate his leadership. If he succeeds in latter efforts, progress towards constitutional government may resume at satisfactory rate. And we should not exclude completely possibility of significant steps towards democracy in 1971 should circumstances permit Papadopoulos to reinforce his position by moving in that direction. Outside public pressures on Greek Government, however, are likely to have little effect in 1971.

In these circumstances U.S. policy should continue to focus on our security needs in Greece and take into account strategic situation in Eastern Mediterranean. Fact that Greek foreign policy complements that of U.S. in this respect works to our advantage. Quiet, private pressures on Greek Government during coming year should be directed principally to questions of release of remaining prisoners held without trial or for non-violent minor anti-regime activity, and to complete lifting of martial law. If marked pressure for organization of early elections sometime in 1971 were effective, which we doubt, it would probably produce crisis within regime of sufficient proportions to jeopardize Prime Ministerʼs position. If Papadopoulos were replaced, it would be by another person or persons already in regime. While we cannot now be sure how it would affect U.S. interests, we are skeptical whether [Page 756] U.S. interests would be as well served. Until situation evolves to point where we have better prospect to influence events constructively, protection of our security interests should be chief objective and primary concern of U.S. policy toward Greece. On this basis Greek policies toward U.S. and in foreign policy field will continue to concern us more than internal political situation and its possible liberalization, although the latter continues to be a primary objective of American policy. End summary.

In his December 19 “State of the Union” message, Prime Minister Papadopoulos announced release of about half of political detainees and held out prospect for release of all detainees by end of April 1971. However, he not only did not hold out any promise for political evolution during 1971; he specifically stated that martial law would not be lifted for offenses against state security nor would there be any political change during year. On surface, making such a statement publicly might seem to be gratuitous, as well as unnecessary, regardless of Governmentʼs intentions. It does reinforce charge of Greek Governmentʼs critics that present regime has no intention of returning to parliamentary situation. We find, however, that Prime Ministerʼs declaration, “no change in 1971” flows naturally from the series of [statements?] that began with his preceding major speech on April 10, 1971 [1970].3
At that time Prime Minister announced several liberalizing measures and held out prospect for considerable more late in year. He also announced major reshuffle of Government, strengthening his own personal position but giving no rewards to his colleagues in the revolution. (These former colonels still generally hold office at the secretary general level.) Although we were gratified to see Papadopoulos take lead in direction of return to more democratic situation, many of his colleagues obviously were displeased. Moreover, three years having elapsed since coup, his compatriotsʼ festering personal ambitions were beginning to erupt. Soon afterward Papadopoulos was attacked almost openly in Greek press by regime dissident Stamatelopoulos,4 particularly on grounds of his having ignored views of his loyal associates while bringing such individuals as former Communist Georgalas5 into Government in key positions. Criticism of Papadopoulosʼ [Page 757] personal life and particularly of interference by his wife in government affairs6 began to mount among Governmentʼs supporters.
Situation reached crisis stage in early autumn. Papadopoulos reportedly submitted his resignation only to have it refused when his colleagues found there was no qualified replacement who could maintain essential support of army. This incident may have marked beginning of strengthening of Papadopoulosʼ hand, enabling him to continue as Prime Minister with authority to arrive at, and implement his own decisions. However, it appears that as price for establishing his preeminence, he was compelled to give his revolutionary colleagues equal voice in any decisions involving elections or return of King, and possibly in some less critical areas. When martial law was not lifted in September, it became apparent that Prime Minister had been obliged to retreat to more defensible position in order to manage his adversaries within the Government. His critics presumably were able to convince at least some elements in army that Papadopoulos was moving too swiftly towards return to civilian rule, thereby jeopardizing the future careers of all who took part in coup and the officer corps in general.
Another direct challenge to the Prime Minister occurred in early November, but again Papadopoulos held his position. Certain of his colleagues, particularly Stamatelopoulos and Makarezos, tried to create other centers of power as a first step toward his replacement. Charges of his personal corruption, again in part centering upon the activities of his wife, as well as efforts to upset certain economic arrangements with Onassis and other businessmen, were made. There was a flurry of speculation about a potential role for Karamanlis and even King, but momentum was lost and Papadopoulos weathered storm by skillful exploitation of differences among his adversaries.
Prior to December 19 speech, Prime Minister is believed to have told his revolutionary colleagues in categorical terms that henceforth he intended to make his own decisions on the course of the regime (but again with the exception of scheduling elections and any matter relating to return of King). We believe that at this juncture Papadopoulos sounded out extent of his personal support within army, decided it was secure, and acted accordingly. Certainly his December 19 speech was very much addressed to army, as well as to his colleagues, as we interpret it as skillful ploy to maintain his position against those who would like to oust him by giving assurances to army that there will [Page 758] not be precipitate return to civilian rule. This need to ensure continuing support from the army we believe motivated Papadopoulosʼ explicit statements on political progress and martial law during 1971.
We are now entering a period in which Papadopoulos will try to consolidate his power. (We already have report he is planning Cabinet reshuffle in near future.) We are skeptical whether he will be able within next twelve months to make moves in constitutional field that will change the attitude of Greeceʼs critics abroad; but Papadopoulos is very much an improviser, and we do not exclude possibility that he could make some dramatic move forward if he sees an opportunity to strengthen his own position in this way. In any case, we do not believe that we should now assume that we are necessarily in for a long period of one-man rule. Should Papadopoulos succeed in disarming his opponents within regime by continuing to play his cards only after assuring their trump value, by beginning of 1972 or even earlier, he may make further moves in direction of constitutional government. In our judgment he remains the one individual within the present government most likely to move toward democracy, and we continue to see no prospect for any external opposition forces to affect regimeʼs position in short term.
Security services have nipped in the bud every attempt to mount active resistance in Greece, and even such signs of resistance as have been manifested (bombings, pamphlets, etc.) have not lifted the apathy of the Greek people to calls for resistance to the regime. Externally, Communist opposition has become more fragmented. Theodorakisʼ performance since he was allowed to leave Greece7 has not been impressive, and Andreas Papandreou has increasingly discredited himself both by his irresponsible calls for violence, which have alienated many of his followers, and his more open cooperation with the Communists, which has perhaps done him even more harm with Greek people. While European Socialist opinion remains adamantly opposed to regime, Greeceʼs withdrawal from Council of Europe is only positive accomplishment of European opponents of regime. Attempts to mount campaign against Greece in NATO have had only indifferent results and future prospects do not at this point look much better. Karamanlis has not been willing to make himself the focal point of non-Communist opposition. The Kingʼs failure to rally support on December 13, 1967 and ambivalent attitude since have likewise prevented him from becoming a symbol of resistance. What could seriously bother the [Page 759] regime is an agreement between major elements of ERE and CU to join forces with Karamanlis and the King in an appeal to the Greek people and particularly the army. But this remains only a prospect. If such a combination were formed, however, it would be possible to speak of the beginning of a real opposition.
We cannot be sure what is in Papadopoulosʼ mind, although it is worth noting that within Government he seems to be key individual who publicly expresses intention of returning to democracy. He also apparently has better grasp on risks of clinging to arbitrary authority than some of his colleagues. Moreover, relatively hard line in his December 19 speech probably gives him greater flexibility for deciding whether and when to take new or relax existing security measures. This assumption borne out by reiteration of similar line in his January 22 speech.
There are obvious risks for Papadopoulos in his chosen course of putting himself squarely at head of Government. Serious misstep could give his opponents opportunity to challenge his preeminence again, and we can envisage certain circumstances in which he could be replaced. His reaction to unfolding events will test his ability to maintain leadership or acquiesce in return to collegial rule. It is premature therefore to seek to judge now whether he is in fact stronger than before, though his tactical position may have improved. We do not think that U.S. likely to improve its position here or benefit in any other way from any such change in regime leadership, nor are we able at this time to take seriously claims by Stamatelopoulos or others that they would move faster in restoring democracy. Such assertions may be tactical ploys linked to personal ambition. If Stamatelopoulos and his adherents, for example, did make a move to restore collegial rule, we consider it likely to be in combination with group of individuals who would be less disposed towards return to democracy. While this does not imply that alternate leadership would be anti-U.S. or anti- NATO, our view is that it would not improve Greeceʼs image abroad or reduce our problems here. Some of officers who criticize Papadopoulos, for instance, are outspoken in opposition to parliamentary system.
If our analysis is accurate, we believe best U.S. posture is one of continued private pressure, particularly on such questions as maintenance of martial law, which becomes increasingly difficult for Greek Government to justify on security grounds after four years of rule. We should hold out publicly no prospects for concrete programs [progress] towards constitutional government in 1971 but leave no doubt that we continue to expect that Greek Government to evolve in this direction. We can best press constitutional issue privately, however, and in general terms, which means for present staying away from most delicate [Page 760] issues of elections and return of King. Public pressure will not be effective in present circumstances, and it could precipitate crisis between Papadopoulos and those whose views on return to democracy appear less favorable from U.S. standpoint.
We should continue to urge Greek Government to clear up question of administratively held political detainees completely by end of April as Prime Minister promised, subject to caveat of no deterioration in security situation. We should also urges release of persons sentenced for minor and non-violent political offenses, speedy resolution of case of those arrested in December and prompt trial or release for persons arrested for political offenses in future. This would eliminate one of principal targets for foreign critics.
We think such a posture is best calculated to safeguard our principal interests which are our own security and our strategic position in Eastern Mediterranean. We should increasingly cite these as foundation of U.S. policy towards Greece, and we should continue to be cautious in any predictions of future Greek political developments, particularly in the area of elections. Prime Minister promised that all important institutional laws for implementation of Constitution would be gazetted by beginning of 1971, and this has now been done. Only remaining step which Government could take is application of constitutional articles concerning political parties and Parliament, which means holding elections. It would be unrealistic to anticipate any such developments in 1971, although we do not completely exclude outside chance that Prime Minister could make some move in this direction if his position of leadership remains secure. For example, a move for local elections might be manageable in certain circumstances.
Greece is well aware of its importance to Alliance in the face of growing Soviet penetration of the Mediterranean. Greek Government undoubtedly feels that army must play strong role in present situation. This view not only based on changing strategic situation but on events thoughout world during past year or so. Martial law has been applied in such countries as Canada, civil disturbances have plagued Italy, Turkey, and numerous other countries, and even such a figure as General De Gaulle was unable to control internal dissidents.8 None of this has been lost on Greek Government, which has smug attitude about degree of law and order in Greece, and it makes for even less propitious climate in which to press for restoration of parliamentary government. The apparently prosperous economy and steady economic development also contribute to this smugness and at same time [Page 761] provide present regime with justification for maintaining authoritarian government.
From here we judge that Greece will be even more important to us in coming year on security grounds. Our concern about negative aspects of Prime Ministerʼs speech should not distract us from our essential aims or cause us to lose sight of nature of our primary interests in Greece. Greece remains basically friendly to U.S., is a strong supporter of NATO, and holds a key position in Eastern Mediterranean. We must live with facts that our ability to influence internal developments is limited not only by internal situation, including governmentʼs increasing confidence, as reflected in Prime Ministerʼs speech, that it need no longer defer to outside pressures of the kind that had been typical in Greek history, but also by the development, both in this area and throughout the world, of new kind of nationalism. Finally, [garble—thrust] of American foreign policy, as evidenced by Nixon Doctrine,9 has not gone unnoticed here. The Greeks will welcome the opportunity to play a vital part in the implementation of this new approach of responsibility and self-reliance on countryʼs own strength and resources in the first instance.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 594, Country Files—Middle East, Greece, Vol. II 1 Nov 1970–31 Dec 1971. Secret; Exdis.
  2. Dated December 21, 1970, it provided a summary and analysis of Papadopoulosʼs December 19 “State of the Union” year-end speech. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 15–1 GREECE)
  3. In this speech, Papadopoulos announced that articles regarding human rights in the 1968 Constitution would come into effect immediately and that the government would establish a “Consultative Committee” to serve as a parliamentary substitute. Elections for a portion of the committeeʼs membership took place on November 29, and the Prime Minister announced further nominations to the group on December 31.
  4. Dimitri Stamatelopoulos, a dissident former junta member, in a May 11 article in the daily Vradyni.
  5. George Georgalas, appointed Under Secretary to the Prime Minister and Director of Communications in June 1970.
  6. In 1970 Papadopoulos divorced his first wife and married his long-time mistress, Despina. She made her first public appearance as the Prime Ministerʼs wife at the March 25 national day celebrations. Questions about the canonical legitimacy of the marriage had been raised by junta members in an August 1970 attack on Papadopoulos.
  7. Theodorakis had been released on orders from Papadopoulos and flew to Paris on the personal aircraft of French political leader and journalist Jean Jacques Servan-Schreiber. Papadopoulos claimed that Theodorakis had agreed to refrain from political activity as the price of his release.
  8. Reference is to student unrest and massive labor demonstrations in France in May 1968.
  9. Reference is to President Nixonʼs statement regarding the U.S. role in Asia during a July 25, 1969, press conference. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 544–556. See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, 1969–1972, Document 29.