3. Memorandum From Acting Secretary of State Rush to President Nixon1


  • Reappraisal of our Greek Policy

Events over the past two weeks have presented us with a changed situation in Greece which will affect our interests in ways that cannot yet be fully assessed.

The Navy mutiny on May 22–232 brought an aftermath of arrests of royalist officers in all services. This development has raised a [Page 6] question as to whether the Greek armed forces can now be considered fully effective as a NATO force.
King Constantine appealed to you on May 303 to forestall an impending move against the monarchy and to press the Papadopoulos government for evolution toward parliamentary rule. Our reply to Constantine, and the way we handle the monarchy issue, will have an impact on other monarchs in the area, especially the Shah of Iran, who has already expressed his concern, and King Hussein of Jordan.
Papadopoulos announced on June 1 that the monarchy was abolished and that a prompt plebiscite on constitutional changes would be held with general elections to follow before the end of 1974.4 In a shrewd move, Papadopoulos has destroyed an institution that offered continuity and an option for evolution back to democracy while at the same time pledging that he will promptly return the country to representative rule within a republican form of government. Our reaction to this development should reflect our assessment of Papadopoulos’ actual intentions and capabilities. Papadopoulos’ announcement also faces us with an immediate question of recognition, since Ambassador Tasca is accredited to King Constantine.

Our approach to the various issues that have been raised over the past two weeks should be carefully coordinated, in the context of a review of all our policy options on Greece. While our preliminary assessment indicates that the Papadopoulos regime may not be viable over the long run and may indeed not be able to meet other challenges in the short term, we may also have to face the possibility that there is little we can effectively do to move events in the direction we wish. I recommend that you issue a NSSM along the lines of the attached draft as soon as possible,5 looking toward an early meeting of the Senior Review Group on the Greek issue. I will be sending you our views on the situation in the aftermath of the regime’s momentous decision.

Attached is a very preliminary tentative analysis.

Kenneth Rush
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Paper Prepared in the Department of State6


Prime Minister Papadopoulos has abolished the monarchy and established a “presidential parliamentary democracy.” He announced on June 1 that he would assume the duties of Provisional President, that revisions of the constitution would be prepared within two months, and that general elections would be held before the end of 1974. This is a substantial change which will undoubtedly affect our interests in Greece in ways that are not yet entirely clear.


In recent months it has become evident that Prime Minister Papadopoulos’ control over Greek internal events has become increasingly tenuous. The stalemate in Greek political life, combined with inflation, student riots, and charges of corruption in high places have raised the level of dissent particularly within the armed forces which represent the key to power. We have been concerned for some time about the possibility of an abrupt change of leadership, most likely in the form of a “palace coup.”

Against this backdrop, the Government of Greece announced on May 23 that it had thwarted a Navy insurrection and had arrested a number of active officers and two retired Admirals. Two days later, the Captain of the destroyer “Velos” took his vessel out of NATO maneuvers, declared himself and his crew against the regime, and sailed for Italy. In its public statement the Greek regime tied in the mutiny with “self-exiled” Greeks, and in subsequent remarks various Greek officials took the position that King Constantine was involved in the plot. They took the King’s failure to issue a public statement denouncing the mutiny as evidence of his complicity. The King has categorically denied his involvement. We have no hard evidence either way.

The wave of arrests in the wake of the Navy mutiny appears to have involved 60 or more Navy officers and the round-up of royalists is spilling over into the Air Force and Army. Therefore, the mutiny, while not successful, is not as limited as the Greek Government maintains.

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On June 1, Papadopoulos announced that the monarchy was abolished by a constituent act voted by the Cabinet. He assumed the duties of Provisional President. He said that revisions to the 1968 Constitution will be prepared within one month and put to a plebiscite within two months. According to the announcement, general elections will be held before the end of 1974.

Preliminary Assessment

Papadopoulos has used the Navy mutiny as a pretext to free his regime from the structure of the 1968 Constitution and the monarchy. We assume Papadopoulos’ action is designed to buy time for his regime while throwing the opposition off balance, and that he hoped his solemn pledge of a firm timetable for general elections would forestall objections from abroad. In view of Papadopoulos’ failure to carry out his past categoric commitment to President Nixon regarding elections, and the fact that conditions for free elections do not and are not likely to prevail, we are skeptical regarding this shrewd, tactical announcement.

There is a mutual U.S.-Greek interest in maintaining Greek effectiveness in NATO. The latest move by Papadopoulos, in view of the fact that it involves military elements, raises questions as to future Greek effectiveness in NATO. It introduces a divisive issue in NATO, after a period when the “Greek question” has eased off.

While we have no direct stake in the monarchy as such, this institution represented continuity and one option for a peaceful reestablishment of parliamentary rule which has been a second objective of our policy. Our view of the impact of this development on our national interests must depend on an assessment as to whether Papadopoulos intends to, and is able to, honor his pledge to hold elections in 1974. As indicated above, we doubt this.

The conduct of the plebiscite, and of the general elections if they do occur, will have a bearing on Greece’s political future and the fate of our interests there. Papadopoulos did not say specifically in his announcement that the “old political world” will be excluded from elections, but one of the strongest policies of the regime from its inception has been to bar this group from political activity. Whether former politicians and royalists will be permitted political activity remains to be seen. The handling of the referendum and actual moves toward bringing into force those articles of the constitution providing for organization of political parties and elections may provide a reasonably satisfactory solution to Greece’s political problem with hope of future improvement, or alternatively might prove so distasteful to important segments of the Greek people that the situation would deteriorate even further. We will not have a clear picture of the way this move will affect our interests until this particular scenario is worked out through the election period.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Scowcroft Daily Work Files, Chronological File A, Box 3. Secret.
  2. Tasca sent an analysis of the mutiny to the Department in telegram 3206, May 24. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–9 GREECE)
  3. King Constantine had requested a meeting with Ambassador Volpe in Rome to discuss his concerns about the political situation in Greece. (Memorandum from Eliot to Kissinger, May 29; ibid., POL 30 GREECE) The Department decided that it would be better for a subordinate Embassy officer to meet with the King. (Telegram 103077, May 30; ibid.) Consequently, the DCM met with Constantine on May 30. (Telegram 4621, May 30; ibid., POL GREECE–US)
  4. The Embassy in Athens reported the announcement in telegram 3496, June 1. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 594, Country Files, Middle East, Greece, Vol. IV)
  5. Attached but not printed. The NSSM was finally issued on January 16, 1975, as NSSM 215. See Document 33.
  6. Secret.