169. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary’s Meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Bitsios


  • Greece

    • Foreign Minister Bitsios
    • Ambassador Alexandrakis—Ambassador to the United States
    • Ambassador Papoulias—Permanent Representative to the United Nations
  • United States

    • Secretary Vance
    • Under Secretary Habib
    • Matthew Nimetz, Counselor of the Department
    • George S. Vest, Assistant Secretary, European Affairs
    • Nelson C. Ledsky, Director, EUR/SE

SUMMARY: In reviewing the Cyprus situation, Greek Foreign Minister Bitsios said the new Cypriot Government was prepared to negotiate in good faith, and that all that was necessary to get the talks restarted were serious Turkish proposals. There was no need for the Greek Government to become more active itself, but if the Turks put serious proposals forward, Bitsios implied his Government would be willing to consider a more direct role. Bitsios was skeptical that early movement to resolve Aegean issues was possible, but said Greece [Page 513] would welcome American assistance on certain procedural aspects of Greek-Turkish negotiations. With respect to Ambassador Schaufele, Bitsios said his Government’s position had not changed, and that it would be impossible for Ambassador Schaufele to carry out his duties. His arrival in Athens would retard the development of closer Greek/US relations.2 Secretary Vance said he would reflect on Foreign Minister Bitsios’ comments, and be back in touch on this matter in the near future. END SUMMARY


The conversation began with a general review of the Cyprus situation. Secretary Vance recalled that after the events of 1967, he and a number of colleagues who had worked on the Cyprus issue met and agreed that the problem had not been resolved, and would soon be back in their laps if something more substantive was not done.3 It was clear that the problem would explode again, though obviously no one could have predicted the crisis of 1974. Vance wondered how the Greek Foreign Minister evaluated the current Cyprus situation in this interregnum period since Makarios’ death.4

Foreign Minister Bitsios said there had been no real change in Cyprus with respect to the negotiating situation. The Greek-Cypriots had announced on August 23 their readiness to resume negotiations. Cypriot Foreign Minister Christophides had repeated this willingness to negotiate in the last few days. The change in presidents had not altered anything and no change after February should be anticipated. All of the likely candidates—Kyprianou, Clerides and Papadopoulos—are known quantities, who will follow a sensible, moderate line. The real problem remains to persuade the Turks to come forward with new ideas. The Foreign Minister said he would be talking to Turkish For [Page 514] eign Minister Caglayangil on Saturday,5 and would probe his Turkish colleague to see if there was anything new in the Turkish attitude.

When Secretary Vance asked if it would not be useful for both Greece and Turkey to become more directly involved in the negotiating process, Bitsios replied negatively, saying a more active Greek role was not necessary. Bitsios insisted the main lines of the Greek position were already on the table. The Greek-Cypriots had accepted a bi-zonal solution. They were prepared to accept a federation. All they asked for were territorial concessions. Thus, why was there any need for Greek Government involvement?

The Secretary expressed his understanding of the Greek position, and said it was his view that serious territorial and constitutional proposals had to be put forward at about the same time, so as to provide a basis for real negotiations. Otherwise, the same old stalemate would continue.

Foreign Minister Bitsios said that while he agreed with the Secretary’s remarks, it was important to note the difference in quality between the proposals the two sides had tabled in Vienna last April.6 The Greek-Cypriot proposal on territory roughly reflected the population balance on the Island. It was a proposal that clearly could provide a basis for discussion and bargaining. On the other hand, the Turkish proposal was so far from anything like an acceptable federation as to be essentially non-negotiable. When the Turkish-Cypriots submit a proposal which embodies a real federation, only then will the parties be in a position to move toward a meaningful negotiation.

Mr. Nimetz asked what would happen if the Turks revised their constitutional proposal along the lines that Bitsios had suggested. Would the Greek Government at such a point be prepared to come in more actively, and be willing to work directly with the Turks to bring about a solution? Bitsios did not answer directly, but insisted that the Turks did not really want to negotiate. If they were to whisper a serious proposal in Greek ears, they would get a positive Greek response, Bitsios said.

Secretary Vance suggested that the Greeks might see a somewhat different attitude on the part of the Turks in the weeks ahead. He suggested that Bitsios press Caglayangil to be forthcoming, and said he would be meeting with Caglayangil again, and hoped to determine in greater detail what the Turkish Government might be prepared to do. It was the Secretary’s feeling that the situation in Ankara may have [Page 515] changed since the Turkish elections. One could at least be hopeful on this point.

Foreign Minister Bitsios said he had received information that Caglayangil had, in fact, brought nothing with him from Ankara. He recalled that Frank Judd had recently returned from Turkey discouraged about the prospects for early movement.7

The Secretary said that, of course, we would all have to wait and see, but that he was not pessimistic. We had seen some indications of change. The Turks have told us they are prepared to discuss the Cyprus situation. They volunteered no specific proposals, and we asked for none, but we do feel that there is a somewhat different attitude—a feeling of confidence on the part of the present government in Ankara that it can carry out a policy with respect to Cyprus. Caglayangil has at least come to New York with a mandate to discuss the matter further.

The Aegean

The Secretary enquired as to whether there had been any progress in resolving Aegean problems. Bitsios replied that these questions had been basically dormant over the last three months. Greece had submitted a series of proposals in June just before the Turkish elections. Turkey has never replied to those proposals, nor had Turkey suggested a further round of meetings. Bitsios said he intended to raise Aegean issues with Caglayangil when he saw him on Saturday (October 1) and would listen to what the Turks had to say. Bitsios conceded that regardless of what the Turks said, it would now be difficult for the Athens Government to organize further meetings, or negotiate Aegean questions before the November 20 elections.

When the Secretary asked if there was anything that the United States might do to be helpful, Bitsios said there were two aspects of the matter where outside involvement might be helpful. Both concerned procedural questions, but ones that were extremely delicate, and could in themselves lead to difficulty. It was because of this delicacy, said Bitsios, that the Greek Government had originally proposed that the entire matter be turned over to the World Court for consideration. Greece had now agreed, however, to negotiate but it would be helpful if outsiders could persuade Turkey (a) that matters which cannot be resolved through negotiation be jointly submitted to the World Court, and (b) that during this period of negotiations and adjudication there be no provocations of the kind caused by the sailing of the Sismik. On both these points, Bitsios said the United States could be most helpful. [Page 516] The Secretary said that he would keep these points in mind as he talked to the Turks.

US/Greek Defense Cooperation Agreement

The Secretary said he appreciated the difficulties Greece faced in signing the Defense Cooperation Agreement which our two sides had initialled in July. He said he assumed that signature would now have to wait until after the Greek elections. Foreign Minister Bitsios agreed, indicating that it would be impossible for a further decision to be made on this matter until after November 20.8

Status of Ambassador Schaufele

The Secretary opened the discussion of this question by indicating that the Greek Government already fully understood US views. It was our opinion that the Greek Government had over-reacted, and that the request for Ambassador Schaufele’s withdrawal was totally unwarranted.

Foreign Minister Bitsios agreed that this was a difficult matter. He said that as unfortunate as the incident might be for Ambassador Schaufele personally, the fact was that the Ambassador would not be in a position to work in Athens. He simply could not do his job. Bitsios then recalled the difficult history of US/Greek bilateral relations in the period from 1974–1977. He said Prime Minister Caramanlis had made great efforts to remedy the situation and restore closer ties with the United States. Ambassador Kubisch had also made a major positive contribution to this endeavor. He was tactful, patient, understanding. He had enjoyed the confidence of Prime Minister Caramanlis. The Prime Minister in turn became satisfied in mid-1977 that he could go ahead with a series of substantive steps aimed at improving US/Greek relations. Then came the Schaufele statement. What he said may not have seemed harmful or serious as viewed from an American context, but it deeply wounded every Greek. It is not true, Bitsios insisted, that the Greek Government was merely bowing to pressure from the press. The first report about the Schaufele statement came to the Greek Government from Ambassador Alexandrakis in Washington. This and subsequent reports were considered the next day in a restricted Cabinet session. The Cabinet was unanimous in its judgment that Schaufele should not come to Greece, and Bitsios assured the Secretary that the United States had many, many friends in that Cabinet. Summing up, he said that if Ambassador Schaufele came to Athens, manifestations could not be prevented and thus the whole process of US/Greek nor [Page 517] malization would be impaired. The Greek Government would find this a most unfortunate development.

The Secretary asked if the Foreign Minister thought these sentiments would persist over time, or whether in a few months feelings on this matter might recede. The Foreign Minister replied that he did not think there would be any change of attitudes. The Greek people, he said, have a long memory.

The Secretary said he wished to reflect on these comments. He had wanted to hear the Foreign Minister’s views directly and now that he had, he thought it important to be able to consider this matter further in private. Foreign Minister Bitsios interrupted at this point to insist again that the Greek Government and especially Prime Minister Caramanlis and himself were friends of the United States and wanted to do everything in their power to improve US/Greek relations. He also noted that Caramanlis was certain to be re-elected on November 20, and thus there would be a further four-year period of steadily improving US-Greek relations.

The Secretary said he accepted these statements completely and knew that Prime Minister Caramanlis and Foreign Minister Bitsios were sincere friends of the United States. The Secretary asked again to have time to reflect on the presentation of the Greek Foreign Minister, and promised to be back in touch with him on this matter in the near future.

The meeting closed with Foreign Minister Bitsios asking how press questions about Ambassador Schaufele were to be handled. It was agreed that the Foreign Minister would say that the two sides had discussed the matter and that the Foreign Minister had presented the views of the Greek Government on this question directly to Secretary Vance. It was further agreed that questions about the US response should be referred directly to the American press spokesman, who would say that the United States had heard the presentation of the Greek Government and had agreed to study it carefully and provide a response at a later date.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, unlabeled folder. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Ledsky on September 30; approved by Anderson on October 20. The meeting took place in Vance’s suite at the UN Plaza Hotel. Vance and Bitsios were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly session.
  2. Carter nominated William E. Schaufele, Jr., a career diplomat, to be Ambassador to Greece on June 23. The Greek Government protested Schaufele’s nomination following his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 12, in which he stated: “The Aegean, essentially, is a bilateral dispute between Greece and Turkey, which in part is due to the unusual—I must admit—arrangements of geography. Greece owns territory very close to the Turkish coast. This ownership is based on long-standing international agreements. If that particular dispute cannot be urged along on the way to settlement, then it could indeed become very serious.” The quote was reprinted in Graham Hovey, “Greek Anger at Schaufele Remark May Block Assignment as Envoy,” The New York Times, July 22, 1977, p. A3. The Department of State announced on December 7 that Schaufele’s nomination would be withdrawn and that he would be reassigned as Ambassador to Poland. On February 3, 1978, Carter announced the nomination of Robert J. McCloskey to be Ambassador to Greece; McCloskey arrived in Athens on March 9.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 162.
  4. Makarios died on August 3.
  5. October 1. Bitsios described the meeting to Vance on October 3. See Document 169.
  6. See Document 11 and footnote 3, Document 38.
  7. Frank Judd, British Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, worked with U.S. officials to mediate the Greece-Cyprus-Turkey dispute.
  8. The signature and completion of the DCA did not occur until 1983. See Document 210.