69. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary’s Meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Bitsios


  • Greece
  • Foreign Minister Dimitry S. Bitsios
  • Director General for Political Affairs John Tzounis
  • Chef de Cabinet Cleom Catsambis
  • US
  • The Secretary
  • Under Secretary Habib
  • Assistant Secretary Hartman, EUR
  • Nelson C. Ledsky, Director, EUR/SE (notetaker)

The Secretary greets Bitsios and photographs are taken.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: How have you been?

The Secrerary: Thank you, quite well. I appreciated very much all the courtesies extended to me in Greece during my recent stop.2 As you know, I had a very good meeting with John Tzounis there.

You have a beautiful country. I was much impressed by the countryside in Crete.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: Yes, Crete is a lovely part of our country. We were happy you were able to stop at Souda Bay.

The Secretary: What part of Greece are you from?

Foreign Minister Bitsios: From an area further north on the mainland.

The Secretary: From what I could see, it is simply a lovely country to vacation in, but of course I can’t go to Greece on a vacation.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: Why not, I think you would be well received.

Tzounis: Well, of course there are many other places north of Greece that are equally beautiful.

The Secretary: Where?

[Page 243]

Tzounis: Well, I know Bucharest and Rumania quite well. That country is equally beautiful.

The Secretary: I suppose Eastern Europe is beautiful, but the Communist system everywhere has destroyed the cities and made everything excruciatingly dull.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: You have traveled extensively in Eastern Europe, haven’t you?

The Secretary: Yes, I think I have been in every Eastern European capital except Sofia. East Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Moscow, they are all incredibly gray and dull. Belgrade is just a little better.

Tzounis: You are correct. It is as if all development stopped when the Communists arrived. Those countries that were taken over later are a little better. Bucharest, for example, is twenty years ahead of Moscow.

The Secretary: It is fascinating to me how frozen in their development Eastern European countries are. The Nazis at least had popular support. I don’t know any country in Eastern Europe where the regime enjoys any popularity. What they have done is to try to seek support through appeals to the petty bourgeois. I have a friend from HambuRG who says when he wants to see what Germany looked like in the Twenties and Thirties, he goes east to the GDR. But Communism has helped prevent some people from moving too fast. If the Chinese, for example, had a free enterprise system, they would probably take over the world.

What should we discuss this morning? Can we settle Cyprus and the Aegean before our elections?

Foreign Minister Bitsios: I had a long conversation with Caglayangil on Monday afternoon. Tzounis has already briefed Hartman on the details. We agreed with the Turks to proceed to negotiations. I will meet Caglayangil again on Friday and see if we can go deeper into the Aegean questions, but when I read his speech yesterday at the UNGA, I became terribly discouraged again. Quite frankly, I think Caglayangil has already ruined the spirit necessary for any meaningful negotiating process, and he has done so just prior to what he knew was to be a crucial discussion with me. Already on Tuesday, I read a report from Ankara in which the Energy Minister talked about the possibility of a further sailing of the Sismik in April.

The Secretary: We have made an analysis of the Sismik and have concluded that unless it accidentally scraped the bottom and hit oil, it couldn’t possibly find anything.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: That may be so, but the sailing of the vessel has a nuisance value. It churns up political difficulties.

The Secretary: I find the whole thing pointless. The sailing of the Sismik doesn’t mean a thing. It could sail for twenty years and find nothing.

[Page 244]

Foreign Minister Bitsios: But let me return to what I was saying. Following up on the Minister of Energy’s speech, Caglayangil spoke yesterday about the Aegean islands. Like the Prime Minister, he refrained from calling them Greek islands. It was a violent speech in my judgment, talking about demographic factors in connection with the future delimitation of the continental shelf. The Turks are simply trying to capitalize on every aspect of the Security Council resolution.3

Then, finally, there is this information about a U.S. company which may begin drilling for oil in the Aegean in the near future, if the Turks have their way. We gave this information to Hartman yesterday.

Hartman: Yes, Mr. Secretary, we are checking on this report.

Tzounis: This latter element is most distressing. Even the Court says that drilling would constitute a serious matter.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: But the most worrisome aspect is the fact that I already spotted on Monday a certain aloofness in Caglayangil’s attitude. Then, instead of scheduling a second meeting some time in the middle of this week, he suggested we meet again only on Friday,4 the day before my scheduled departure from New York. I simply don’t know what they have in mind. There seems to be a new element in their position, but what it is, I am not sure.

For example, when I raised Cyprus with Caglayangil, he asked me if Greece was not losing interest in this subject. I told him it was not up to us to negotiate. The two communities have their own forum for conducting the negotiations, but two years have gone by without results, and it was time to produce something concrete. Caglayangil admitted Cyprus was the key to the relationship between Greece and Turkey, but he then turned around and said that all that Turkey could offer was “modest border rectifications.” I said that we would have to negotiate on the Aegean for the moment and not Cyprus, but I made clear that the Turks would have to make more meaningful concessions on Cyprus if there was ever to be an understanding. We will see what will happen on Friday, but frankly I am not optimistic.

The Secretary: Are the Turks more flexible in the exchanges of letters I understand have occurred between the two Prime Ministers?

Foreign Minister Bitsios: There has been no recent exchange of letters. I know of none.

The Secretary: Well, with respect to the Aegean what can be done now? Can you give me some idea of how you perceive a settlement’s [Page 245] being worked out? Tzounis, for example, when I spoke to him at Souda Bay, talked about some form of joint exploration and exploitation.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: I think any kind of joint exploration would be premature. First we must tackle the delimitation question. On this we cannot allow the Turks to have anything West of the Aegean Islands. That would be contrary to anything done anywhere else in the world. With this single reservation, we can probably then proceed to accommodate the Turks in some fashion with respect to the area east of the Greek Islands. Once delimitation is settled, there can be joint ventures in the areas adjacent to the delimited line. But the joint ventures cannot be in the whole Aegean as the Turks seem to want. The whole area is simply not open for joint ventures. As I said before, they are now advancing demographic arguments contrasting their 40 million to our 9 million as criteria to be used in the delimitation question. That is sheer nonsense. We have repeatedly said that the Aegean is not a Greek lake. But Greece is made up of islands and the mainland. In fact, our territory is half islands. So this is a major matter with us.

The Secretary: You have, as I understand it, 3,000 islands. If one figures six miles around each island, what does that do? What would be left for the Turks? The Turks claim they would be enclosed.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: Those statistics mean nothing in terms of navigation. They can sail anywhere and even with respect to the continental shelf, there would be much remaining open to them. If we were to declare a twelve-mile limit, that would involve, as I understand it, 80% of the continental shelf, but, Mr. Secretary, let me point out that we have not claimed the twelve-mile limit.

Tzounis: According to our calculations, on the basis of the six-mile limit, there are 92,600 kilometers of the Aegean open outside territorial waters.

The Secretary: If there were no islands, the median line between Greece and Turkey would be easily definable. It also seems to me that whatever is west of the median line cannot be laid claim to by Turkey.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: Right. Exactly our position.

The Secretary: It seems to me desirable to define the disputed zone. Nothing west of the median line would be in that zone.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: That is certainly so. But you can draw many other lines and therefore it is important to know just what the Turks are claiming. The sailing of their Sismik has alarmed us in this regard.

The Secretary: I am trying to restore some balance. The Turks have implied that anything surrounding the six-mile limit is open for discussion, but in my view they shouldn’t be able to claim anything west of the median line.

[Page 246]

Tzounis: Exactly right. Based on our own calculations, Mr. Secretary there would then be approximately 25% of the Aegean open for discussion.

The Secretary: I am not making any proposals. I just want to restore sanity.

Tzounis: Let me give you some technical details. There have been anywhere from 27 to 30 Court decisions on matters of this kind. Seven involved islands. On no occasion were islands enclaved within the territorial sphere of a second country.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: Just before we entered this room we received a telephone call from Athens. It was from Prime Minister Caramanlis. He wanted me to tell you that he had read Caglayangil’s speech before the UNGA yesterday, and that he was aware of the information concerning possible US involvement in Turkish drilling in the Aegean, information which we have already passed to Hartman. The Prime Minister believes it is imperative that Turkey understand that they must cease trying the patience of Greece and the Greek people. The Prime Minister is simply not prepared to accept any new provocations. Either he will quit his position, or there will be a violent reaction.

The Secretary: Will you tell this to Caglayangil when you see him on Friday? Would you prefer that I pass this message to Caglayangil? Would you object if I did so?

Foreign Minister Bitsios: No, to the contrary. I think it would be very useful if you could emphasize this point. The point should be made that not only would future unilateral actions on their part blow up whatever chance there is for a negotiated settlement, but that Greece will have to react directly to any new provocation.

The Secretary: What can we do at this time to be of assistance?

Foreign Minister Bitsios: It seems to me that it would be useful if you could ask them to be moderate in the negotiations. If they want more than 50% of the Aegean, there can simply be no negotiation. There also must be no new initiatives on their part while the negotiations are in progress.

The Secretary: Can you give them some idea of what part of the Aegean you are prepared to discuss? That is what they asked me this morning. What proposals are you prepared to make?

Foreign Minister Bitsios: We will give them on Friday some idea of the area open for negotiation.

The Secretary: When I saw them this morning, I asked that they not push their old notion of your withdrawing your case before the International Court of Justice.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: I think they have accepted the idea of a long delay, six months or longer.

[Page 247]

The Secretary: (to Tzounis) When we spoke in Souda Bay last week,5 I think you referred to the possibility of a nine-month delay on each side.

Tzounis: Yes. I outlined then that we would ask for a six-month delay in responding to the Court’s request for a memorandum, and that we might then ask for a ninety-day extension on the six months. The Turks would have the same opportunity, so that if all the delays were added up together, there would be a total of perhaps eighteen months.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: Returning to the question of your possible role, I simply don’t see what else you can do but to urge moderation upon the Turks at this point. The situation is serious. I know the Turks always say that war is unthinkable, but then they turn around and do exactly what they want to without regard for the consequences in the area.

The Secretary: We will talk to Caglayangil again. If after your own talk with him on Friday you think of any other way in which we can be helpful, I would appreciate your telling me, and I will do everything I can to assist.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: We will contact you after our meeting on Friday.

The Secretary: I did want to say that in my speech tomorrow in the General Assembly,6 I intend to mention the need for movement on the Cyprus question. I will refer again to the idea of principles. You will recall that I spoke along similar lines in my speech last year, and we have now fixed up my points a bit. I think it would be useful if both sides could look at them and consider them further. Of course we recognize that it is up to the two communities to decide whether they want to make progress. I would appreciate it if you would also take a look at these principles. I hope you will not find them too painful.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: The key point is that they (the Turks) occupy the key territory on Cyprus.

The Secretary: Well, you will note that one of our principles talks about the necessity of a return of territory.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: In ending, Mr. Secretary, I must say again that we see things as drifting. What is required is that this drift be checked and that the situation in the Aegean not proceed to deteriorate in the step-by-step fashion it has over the past few months.

[Page 248]

The Secretary: One of our problems is that we have never had a coherent strategy. Maybe after the elections, assuming that the Republicans win, we should see if we can get together and take a look six to twelve months ahead.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: I am ready to sit down for a discussion of this kind at any time. We could even do it before the elections.

The Secretary: The issues in the Eastern Mediterranean must be settled peacefully. We simply cannot allow the situation to drift into war.

Foreign Minister Bitsios: Even a brief encounter between the two sides would be catastrophic. The consequences could not be calculated, but I do not see how either party could survive in the Western camp after such a collision. This is not because the two Governments would want to leave the West, but because the internal forces brought into play by such a cataclysmic event would overwhelm the present regimes.

The Secretary: You are right. I agree that both the parties would probably be lost to the West. What is important is that we stay in touch to make sure that the drift is halted and that the process of negotiation is begun.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 276, Memoranda of Conversations, Chronological File. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Ledsky on September 30 and approved in S on October 13. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s suite at the Waldorf Towers Hotel. Kissinger met with Turkish Foreign Minister Caglayangil earlier that morning; see Document 246.
  2. Kissinger stopped in Crete the previous week.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 246.
  4. October 1.
  5. Kissinger and Tzounis met at Souda Bay Air Force Base on September 23 from 6:35 to 7:21 p.m. They primarily discussed the Greek-Turkish Aegean dispute and Greek-U.S. base negotiations. (Memorandum of conversation; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 277, Memoranda of Conversations, Chronological File)
  6. The address is published in the Department of State Newsletter, No. 183, October 1976, pp. 2–5, 36–39.