166. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Clark Clifford
  • Robert Hunter, Staff Member, National Security Council (Notetaker)
  • Prime Minister Constantine Caramanlis
  • Foreign Minister Dimitri Bitsios
  • Mr. P. Molyviatis, Director General of the Prime Minister’s Political Cabinet
  • A Notetaker
  • One other individual


  • President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Caramanlis

The meeting began with a discussion between the Secretary and the Prime Minister on the latter’s back problems. He indicated he had had to postpone a visit to five countries.

The President said that these countries had been disappointed at the postponement. Clark Clifford had reported all the friendship toward the United States he had found on his trip to Greece. The President complimented the Prime Minister on what he had done to restore the spirit of Greece.

The Prime Minister said that in spite of past misunderstandings between Greece and the U.S., he is one of the most pro-American politicians in Europe.

The President said he hoped that many leaders would compete for that title.

The Prime Minister said that years earlier, he had visited the United States and seen President Truman. He had been in Washington to ask for economic aid immediately after the war, when Greece was in bad shape.2 Truman said that he had given Greece $25 million six months [Page 503] earlier, but that the best use of it had not been made. Caramanlis had replied that Greece had so many needs, they did not know where to begin. In a different sense, this is the case now. There are so many needs, they hardly know where to begin.

The President said he was eager to work with the Prime Minister, as President Truman had done.

The Prime Minister thanked him for his interest in the problems of Greece. He thanked the President for Clark Clifford’s time and talents on Greece’s problems. He was certain the President was well briefed on their problems and views through his letter and Clark Clifford.

The President replied that he had seen Clifford last night.

The Prime Minister mentioned the letter he had sent just after the Inauguration.3

The President said he knew.

The Prime Minister said that Clifford would have given the President the details of issues. He didn’t feel a need to speak at length of these problems, therefore. He is at the President’s disposal if he wishes clarification, or answers to questions. He would like to ask if the President would let him know how the U.S. can help solve problems, which are both important and dangerous.

The President said it is important to know Caramanlis’ position. Clifford keeps him informed. This included Caramanlis’ admirable reticence, as with his response on the Aegean issue. The U.S. does not want to interfere, but is ready to help Greece and Turkey with their talks, which he hopes will go on without interruption. We will add our services as “you” (both parties?) request. It will take years, but he believes that the taking place of talks is a guard against misunderstanding.

The Prime Minister said if Turkey could be convinced to help take part in a serious dialogue, he would have succeeded. He did not think he had a serious interlocutor. This was the hardest problem.

The President said that the Cypriot problem was unfortunate for the U.S., the EC, Greece, Turkey, and the people of Cyprus. The U.S. was committed to one nation on Cyprus, living in peace, with a fair division of the two parts. He is pleased by the initiative of the Greek Cypriots. U.S. influence with Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots is limited. But he would do his best to bring the parties together. He needs Caramanlis’ advice. Clifford will continue his services, if asked.

The Prime Minister said he appreciated the President’s interest in the problems of the Aegean and Cyprus. He was sorry that the U.S. has [Page 504] had to take on its shoulders the mistakes of others. He wanted to tell the President the difference in the problems.

The President said this would be very helpful.

The Prime Minister said he would begin in the Aegean. It was more a direct interest of Greece and more dangerous. Cyprus is a tragedy, but not a problem that could cause war between Greece and Turkey. In all, each side puts the blame on the other. The President should believe him, as he would speak from an objective position, as though he were a third party. How was the question created? How could it be solved? The Aegean question was created by Turkey. Greece asks nothing in the Aegean. Turkey asks something of Greece. Greece favors the status quo that has existed for more than 60 years, and is contained in an international treaty.4 Turkey seeks to upset the status quo at Greek expense. But its claims are ungrounded, either morally or politically. He would not give more details, but he is convinced that Turkey causes the problems in the Aegean.

For a solution, he would not ask the U.S. to bear the burden of deciding who is right and who is wrong. He would ask that the President also suggest to Turkey to begin a serious and responsible dialogue, without going back on what had been agreed. In this dialogue, there should be no provocation on either side, which would undermine the dialogue and decisions. If at the end of the dialogue and negotiations there were still points unresolved, it should be referred to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for arbitration, as all civilized nations do. He takes this position, although he could have said to Turkey that there is nothing to talk about—there is just the status quo. But he has proposed arbitration. There has been no response. Perhaps the U.S. could help persuade Turkey to take the right course. He was not asking the President to humiliate or impose on Turkey the views of Greece. Instead, he was asking the President to help ensure a dialogue, to avoid conflict and lead instead to a solution.

The President said he understood.

The Prime Minister asked if he wanted to comment.

The President said that after Clifford first went to see Caramanlis, he told Turkey of Greece’s feeling on the Aegean.5 The Turks responded that this was the first time they knew how serious the Greek view is on provocation (in the Aegean). Turkey feels that Greek fortification of the offshore islands is a violation of their agreement. Caramanlis feels that Turkey has landing forces that could attack the [Page 505] islands. The United States will do the best it can to get Turkey to agree to sustain negotiations on the Aegean. A situation of spasmodic meetings sets back progress. The submission of claims to the World Court may not be productive. He thought that direct negotiations may be more productive.

The Prime Minister replied that there is no doubt that it is best to have direct contact and negotiations. But if there are no results, then that is why we have international institutions and courts. He could give an example to show how tough it is to deal with Turkey. When Turkey started the Aegean problem, he suggested that they go to The Hague. They accepted, but Ecevit criticized Demirel, who then backed off. Earlier, he had proposed the signing of a non-aggression and arms control pact. The Turks said yes. One week later he had sent a draft; the Turks refused to accept it, and asked him not to reveal the fact, since that would blow up everything. Two years ago he saw Demirel in Brussels. They agreed to refer the problem to the World Court, and to negotiate in parallel and refer the results to the Court if it worked (i.e., to put the deliberations within a new political context). Demirel agreed that the political approach was best for a Court agreement, not just on its own. They put this in a joint communique and made it public. He then asked Turkey to negotiate on a document to refer to the Court. But it refused. Demirel claimed that he had not paid attention when he had read the communique. Therefore Greece cannot sustain a dialogue under such circumstances. He would like to say that the maximum he could do is to suggest this approach (on negotiations?); and the minimum for the U.S. would be to convince both Greece and Turkey to follow it.

The President said he would propose it to Demirel.6 It seems reasonable. What about the fortification of the islands?

The Prime Minister replied that it was for truly elementary defense reasons, and was done only after the invasion of Cyprus, when Turkey took almost half of the island. There were daily threats to the islands. It would have been unwise not to fortify them. They had the right of self-defense. This is fundamental, and prevails over other agreements. So the fortification of the islands was only defensive. Also there was the invasion of Cyprus, many of them began to leave. Their morale must be boosted.

The President said he understood, and that he would do the best he could. Caramanlis should call him or Secretary Vance or Clark Clifford, to ask them to communicate with the Turks, or to help in another way. The U.S. would not intrude. Greece and Turkey must work it out be [Page 506] tween themselves. Our interference would be minimum. The parties should work it out as they can. The U.S. feels friendship towards both Greece and Turkey. The American people are inclined toward Greece, where democracy was born, and where we have special ties. Turkey feels that we favor Greece. We try to show Turkey we are fair and objective. Potential dispute is a problem.

The Cyprus question is more widely understood than the Aegean, and a deeper concern in the U.S. He had learned from Caramanlis of the threat to peace in the Aegean. There are complex technical questions on exploring for oil, overflight rights, the continental shelf, fortification. The United States offers its good services. It will try to induce Demirel and others to approach these problems from a peaceful perspective.

He hoped that Greece and Turkey will let us work without criticism. We are trying to deal with Turkey on a friendly basis. Progress on the Aegean and Cyprus depends in part on our being able to work with Turkey.

The Prime Minister said he also feels a desire for good relations with the United States and, to solve problems with Turkey, for the United States to have good relations with it. Turkey had not shown understanding for the past three years.

The President asked Clark Clifford if he had anything to add.

Secretary Clifford said that he had said many times in his talks with Caramanlis that the major U.S. interest in the Eastern Mediterranean is to preserve NATO, in which we have had a great investment for 30 years, with billions of dollars, and with an army in Europe. We will do what we can to keep this involvement. It has worked; it has kept the peace for 30 years. Greece and Turkey are two important allies on the Southeastern flank of NATO. Their problems lead to great U.S. concern. On Cyprus, the Greek government can help by seeing that the Greek Cypriots continue a forthcoming response to U.S. efforts. The Aegean is complex: he and Caramanlis had been over it many times. The President understands Caramanlis’ interest in this matter.

Turkey has the same interest, seen from its standpoint. It is not enough for each side to say there is merit only in its arguments, but remain frozen. There will be no result. To get a settlement in the Aegean, each side must make substantial concessions. It is important that the parties continue to talk. To discuss and then break off the talks is no good. The U.S. can make efforts to keep the talks going, but if each side has a fixed position, then the problem will not be solved and will just get worse.

Greek concessions would be helpful. But now both sides are so clear that they are right, it is difficult to make concessions. The U.S. offers all its services to assist them. But it can’t and won’t interfere in in [Page 507] ternal affairs: not in substance. In procedures, as we can, we will urge the parties.

Unfortunately for NATO, these two allies are in serious trouble. Some outside parties would like a weak NATO and more instability in the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore he would only add what he has learned: to get a settlement in the Aegean, both sides must make concessions. This is difficult, but it can be done with good will.

The President said he wanted to make one point. Later he would see Demirel. Caramanlis could see Clifford—or the Foreign Minister could—to see if there are added opportunities for progress.

The Prime Minister agreed. With regard to NATO, the Greek people are for it. When they left NATO two and a half years ago, it was either that or having a war with Turkey. In 1974, when he had gone back to Greece, the army was fully mobilized, and everyone wanted war. NATO took an indifferent attitude. This is why Greece had to act. He had asked the North Atlantic Council to discuss the situation, but everyone was on vacation. The only thing to control public opinion in the army was to do what he did, and get NATO to take an interest. When those things which caused the problems are gone, then Greece would again be fully in NATO. Of course, it was still in it. There were U.S. and NATO bases in Greece. But they cannot be returned unless there were renewed conditions for it.

The President said he had to go. He added that Greece’s problems were also the U.S.’ problems. He was so proud of Caramanlis.

The meeting concluded at 8:25 a.m.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 35, Memcons: President: 5/77. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Hunter. The meeting took place at Winfield House, the U.S. Ambassador’s residence. Carter and Karamanlis were in London for the NATO Ministerial meeting, which took place May 10–11.
  2. Karamanlis arrived in Washington on August 1, 1946, as part of the Greek Economic Mission seeking aid from a number of U.S. Government and UN agencies. The telegram noting Karamanlis’ arrival in the United States, sent from Acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson to the Ambassador to Greece, does not mention the meeting with Truman. See Foreign Relations, 1946, vol. VII, The Near East and Africa, pp. 190–191.
  3. Not found.
  4. Presumably a reference to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which established Turkey’s borders after World War I.
  5. See Document 88.
  6. Carter met with Demirel at Winfield House immediately following his talk with Karamanlis. The Aegean dispute was the first item brought up by Carter. See Document 94.