170. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary Clifford’s Meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Bitsios


  • Greece

    • Dimitrios Bitsios, Foreign Minister of Greece
    • Ambassador George Papoulias, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations
    • Ambassador Menelas Alexandrakis, Ambassador of Greece to the United States
  • United States

    • Secretary Clifford
    • Matthew Nimetz, Counselor of the Department
    • Nelson C. Ledsky, Director, EUR/SE

Secretary Clifford opened the conversation by recalling his previous meetings with Foreign Minister Bitsios in Athens in February and London in May,2 and suggested that he hoped to see Bitsios again fairly soon in Greece. Greek Foreign Minister Bitsios responded by indicating that Secretary Clifford was most welcome to come back to Athens, and his return at an early date would signify that the Cyprus issue might move off dead-center.

Secretary Clifford said he was particularly interested in talking to Bitsios, to get a feel of where the present situation stood. He recounted the difficulties we had all faced since the Vienna meetings in April. First had come the Turkish elections, then the difficult process of government formation in Ankara, and then the death of Makarios. All these developments taken together had retarded real movement on Cyprus for almost six months. However, Clifford said he now had the feeling that movement was possible again. The new coalition in Ankara has expressed the desire to see negotiations on Cyprus resumed, and that if the talks can be restarted, this could constitute an important step forward. We certainly do not think our efforts between February and October were wasted. The U.S. still has an important contribution to make, and there has been no diminution of US interest and determination to see this problem through. President Carter remains interested and involved.

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Foreign Minister Bitsios said he was pleased by the statements Secretary Clifford had made. Greece welcomed continued US interest and involvement, and affirmed that Cyprus was of continuing interest and concern to the Greek government. Bitsios also pledged all possible Greek government cooperation and assistance with respect to the Cyprus problem. Nonetheless, Athens remained pessimistic about the prospects for early progress. Bitsios said that on Saturday he had had a long luncheon meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Caglayangil—the first such meeting since the new Turkish coalition was formed. Caglayangil essentially had nothing new to say, and this in itself was a source of deep disappointment. Instead of indicating that the Turkish government was prepared to make a territorial or constitutional offer or even to discuss a settlement in terms of percentage, Caglayangil insisted that there could be nothing more than free discussion between the parties at a resumed intercommunal conference. Bitsios said such a Turkish position might have seemed fair a year ago, but it was neither new nor fair under circumstances in which the Greek Cypriots had already put solid territorial and constitutional proposals on the table.

Bitsios said he reminded Caglayangil that the Greek-Cypriots had already accepted the concept of bizonality. They had already accepted the need for a federation. They had acknowledged that the Turkish Cypriots could hold 20 percent of the island’s territory. It was now time for the Turks to say something concrete. Bitsios said he had explained to Caglayangil that he was making these statements, not to set preconditions for the negotiations, but merely to outline the current status of those negotiations.

Bitsios indicated that at one point in their nonproductive conversation, he had asked Caglayangil if he wished to “whisper something in my ear”, which could serve as a basis for a serious, substantive discussion on a key Cyprus issue. Caglayangil said that this was not the way one could proceed. Sensitive discussions would have to take place at the negotiating table, with give and take between the negotiators.

With respect to the constitutional issue, Caglayangil was even more negative. According to Bitsios, the Turkish Foreign Minister spent most of his time complaining about US interest in this subject and suggested that this was a matter better discussed directly between the Greeks and the Turks. It was at this point that Caglayangil asked Bitsios if the Greeks would be willing to sit at the table with the Turks for substantive discussions. Bitsios said his answer was firmly negative claiming, as he said he had done many times in the past, that these were matters for the Cypriots and not the Greek government.

Bitsios said he came away from the luncheon meeting extremely discouraged. It was not a good conversation—perhaps the poorest with Caglayangil in some years. As for the Aegean, Bitsios acknowledged [Page 520] that Caglayangil had praised Greece’s latest proposals, and said Turkey was ready to provide a positive reply whenever talks resumed. Bitsios said he had told Caglayangil that it would not be possible to organize such a meeting before November 20 and explained that he was not empowered to fix a date even after then.

Under questioning from Secretary Clifford, Bitsios said that what disturbed him more than the substantive positions taken by Caglayangil was the long list of complaints about warlike articles in the Greek press and belligerent statements by Greek politicians that Caglayangil cited at the beginning of the luncheon. Caglayangil also had a distorted report of the Greek Foreign Minister’s UNGA speech, from which he made a series of further erroneous complaints about Greek political positions.3 In sum, Caglayangil seemed intent, said Bitsios, on establishing the most negative atmosphere possible.

Bitsios said that while he was extremely pessimistic following his meeting with Caglayangil, he did not pass on this pessimism to the Greek Cypriots in New York, and did not want to cast doubt on prospects for future Cyprus negotiations. He hoped the US’ more optimistic appraisal would prove accurate. He also thought the UN Secretary General should take a further initiative to resume the Cyprus talks, if he can obtain assurances from the Turks that there will be serious negotiations. In this regard, the Greek government favored completing the Cyprus debate in the General Assembly as soon as possible.

Bitsios said he was also certain that the Cypriots were counting on a further Clifford mission to the area. This, too, was favored by the Greek government. Indeed, all responsible factions in Greece wanted continued US involvement in the Cyprus problem.

Secretary Clifford expressed regret that the meeting between Bitsios and Caglayangil had not gone better, and said he hoped the unhappy outcome did not portend a further worsening of Greek-Turkish relations. Clifford then asked Bitsios for his appraisal of the domestic situation in Cyprus.

The response from Greek Foreign Minister was along familiar lines. He said the Greek government was pleased that the Cypriots had been able to maintain their unity and select an interim President. It was also reassuring to Athens that all the possible candidates for the presidential elections in February were committed to the goals set by Archbishop Makarios. Bitsios declined to predict who would win the February elections, but said he doubted that the leftists would emerge strengthened even if they supported the winning candidate.

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With regard to the timing of the Greek elections, Bitsios said that Caramanlis had decided to hold them in November, rather than have all of 1978 devoted to campaigning. Getting a new government installed after November will mean Athens can then move to deal more effectively with its many foreign policy problems, among which he listed problems with Turkey, with the United States, with the EC–9 and Cyprus.

Mention of Greek-US relations led quite naturally to a general discussion of the status of the US-Greek Defense Cooperation Agreement. Bitsios said that the Agreement, which had now been initialed, had been submitted to the Cabinet for study. The Agreement could not now be signed until after the Greek elections of November 20, but no decision had been made to sign it even after then. The Greek Foreign Minister said it was a fact of life that the Greek DCA was linked to the Turkish DCA, and that the Turkish DCA was in turn linked to Cyprus. This is a linkage which has been established by others but it was a linkage that no one could now break.

Bitsios said there were also mounting problems with respect to Greece and NATO. The Greek government was seeking to establish a satisfactory relationship with NATO based on its desire to have its forces ready to participate with its NATO allies in case of an emergency. The Turks were beginning to be negative with respect to every position the Greeks adopted. This made the situation in Brussels very difficult.

Bitsios said the Greek military was becoming very unhappy with this state of affairs, and if Turkish negativism continues, pressure will grow in Greece to get out of NATO altogether. Bitsios said he had spoken directly with General Haig about this matter, and Haig had suggested that further Greek-NATO talks be conducted at military rather than political levels in Brussels. This was certainly acceptable to Greece.

Bitsios then asked Secretary Clifford how he envisaged his future role. Clifford said he saw one of his next tasks as assisting the Administration move the Defense Cooperation Agreements with Turkey and Greece through the Congress. In this connection, he expressed the hope that the Greek government would soon sign its DCA, since these documents represented, in Clifford’s view, a first step to strengthen the Alliance and rebuild NATO’s southeastern flank.

Bitsios seemed somewhat upset by this explanation and enquired as to the current relationship of the DCAs to Cyprus. Was there not a linkage between these subjects? Mr. Nimetz and Secretary Clifford both agreed there was such a linkage, and that Turkey fully understood that the DCA could not be passed before real progress had been achieved on Cyprus.

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Bitsios said he continued to be puzzled as to why the Turks were not reasonable on Cyprus. They were clearly the winners and all they had to do was find a way to confirm their victory. Why had they been so stubborn these past three years?

Mr. Nimetz suggested that perhaps they did not quite know how to act. Our impression is that they do not believe the matter can be successfully resolved if negotiations are left to the two Cypriot negotiators. This may explain why Turkey seems interested in talking directly to the Greek government about Cyprus. Secretary Clifford observed that a Cyprus solution will be difficult to obtain at best—perhaps impossible without active Greek help.

Foreign Minister Bitsios assured Secretary Clifford that we could count on Greek assistance when the time was right. He closed the conversation by noting again the great confidence the Greek-Cypriots had in Secretary Clifford. This confidence was shared by Greece as well, which was prepared to assist Secretary Clifford in any way it could in the months ahead.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of Counselor Nimetz, 1977–1980, Lot 81D85, Box 2, MemCons. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Ledsky on October 11. The meeting took place at the Carlyle Hotel.
  2. See Documents 8 and 166.
  3. Reference is presumably to Bitsios’ speech at the United Nations on September 30.