175. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Karamanlis of Greece


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Vice President Walter F. Mondale
  • Warren Christopher, Deputy Secretary of State
  • David Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • George Vest, Assistant Secretary of State
  • Matthew Nimetz, Counselor, Department of State
  • Hamilton Jordan, Assistant to the President
  • Paul B. Henze (Notetaker), National Security Council Staff Member
  • Constantine Karamanlis, Prime Minister of Greece
  • George Rallis, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Petros Molyviatis, Director General, Political Office
  • John Tzounis, Director General, Foreign Office
  • Menelaos Alexandrakis, Greek Ambassador to the United States

The President opened the meeting by welcoming Prime Minister Karamanlis to the White House and complimenting him on his contribution to the NATO discussions that afternoon.2 He then suggested he talk first. The Prime Minister gave a long explanation of Greek views of the Cyprus situation and other problems with Turkey which corresponded to positions he has taken publicly over an extended period of time.

All of the problems which exist in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Prime Minister said, were created by the Turks. “We ask nothing of Turkey; Turkey asks something of us.” He emphasized that all these problems could be solved by Turkish action. The moderation which he [Page 538] had shown, he said, was at the expense of his domestic political support in Greece. On two occasions, he said, he had carried his moderation to the point of taking measures to avoid war with Turkey. The first occasion, he explained, was when the Turks launched the second phase of their movement in Cyprus.3 Greece did not move against Turkey and the result has been stalemate, with the Turks unwilling to budge from the 40% of Cyprus they seized. Recent Turkish proposals for negotiating on Cyprus were not worthy of serious attention, he insisted, and earlier proposals for constitutional and territorial arrangements could not be taken as a basis for setting up a new governmental system for the whole island.4 The Greek Cypriot side was right in rejecting them, he said, but he agreed that the concept of a bizonal, federal system with limited powers for the central government remained a basis for working out a solution. On territory, he said, the proportion to be retained by the Turks had to be brought down to something closer to their proportion of the population—18%. He was willing to concede, he said, that they might retain 25% of the territory of the island, but no more.

“The question of Cyprus has been linked with the question of the arms embargo which is a headache for you,” the Prime Minister continued, “but it is not we who have imposed the arms embargo. We accept that this is an internal matter of the United States.” Nevertheless, the Prime Minister went on, the lifting of the embargo would be disadvantageous for both Greece and Cyprus and could have very adverse effects. He mentioned some of the political problems it could cause for him in Greece, encouraging the left to attack. If the Turks would simply make some real concessions, the Prime Minister said, all these dire consequences could be avoided: “I do not understand why we should be striving to rid Turkey of the burden of the embargo since it is in her power to rid herself of it.” He acknowledged that the President’s assessment of this situation was probably different from his own.

The Prime Minister then turned to discussion of the Aegean, saying that the problems in this region were also created by Turkey. “I could have said to the Turks that we do not recognize the existence of an issue in the Aegean. We favor the status quo which has been there for 60 years. Since the Turks have raised the issue I have accepted discussion of it with them.” Efforts to carry on discussions on the Aegean, the Prime Minister maintained, had been continually blocked by Turkish unwillingness to pursue discussions seriously. He talked of his willingness to have the question of continental shelf rights in the Ae [Page 539] gean settled by the International Court in The Hague.5 He said he would like to see an effort resumed to settle this problem by political talks with Turkey; if these did not succeed, he would agree to submit the problem to arbitration.

President Carter said that he had talked to Prime Minister Ecevit that morning about Aegean negotiations and asked him to explain the Turkish position.6 He gained the impression, he said, that there were possibilities for serious dialogue and we were encouraging Turkey to engage in it. “There are differences of opinion between you and me concerning the lifting of the arms embargo,” the President continued. “It is a difficult question for us because we value our continued friendship with Greece so highly. In all our proposals to the Congress we have maintained a balance between Greece and Turkey from our own perspective. But after three years of experience with the embargo, we have not seen any progress. Our relations with Greece are not better. Our relationship with Turkey has not improved. The relationship between Greece and Turkey has not improved and the relationship of both countries to NATO has not improved. Because of this lack of progress, which seems likely to continue with the arms embargo, we have proposed to the Congress that the embargo be lifted. We did it with some hesitation because of the concern expressed to us by Greeks.”

The President continued by saying that PM Ecevit had taken a more constructive attitude than Mr. Demirel on Cyprus and that he hoped meetings between Turks and Greeks in Cyprus could be sustained so that some real progress could be made. PM Ecevit might be willing, he said, to meet with both Mr. Kyprianou and Mr. Denktaş. “As an early indication of willingness to resolve these issues we have asked the Turks to start reducing the level of troops, to open the Nicosia airport and to open the Varosha area and let 30–40,000 Cypriot Greeks return. I told PM Ecevit that the level of troops in Cyprus was excessive and that all these actions should be taken prior to agreement [Page 540] between the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots. I consider his proposal on Cyprus to be a reasonable beginning.”

The President went on to stress that he felt that Turkish Cypriot proposals on territory and constitutional structure were simply starting points for discussion but that they offered good possibilities for negotiation. He reiterated and summed up what he had already said, “I would hope that bilateral discussions on the Aegean could begin and perhaps quadrilateral discussions concerning Cyprus. I asked Mr. Ecevit whether he would be willing to meet with Kyprianou and Denktaş and he consulted with his advisors and said it would be difficult because he would much prefer to have all four parties present at the beginning. We have no preconceived attitudes in the U.S. about the division of Cyprus and the exact form of government. We do feel that the Turkish forces should withdraw and the refugees should be handled with compassion, that there should be a strong and independent Cyprus—but negotiations may well take some time.” He added that if the arms embargo is lifted, we do not intend to upset the military balance that exists between Greece and Turkey. He explained that we strongly favor a major UN role in Cyprus discussions. The United States is willing to help if all parties want help in discussions, the President concluded, but we do not want to intrude against the wishes of the parties themselves.

Prime Minister Karamanlis then resumed his comment. Both Turkey and Greece agreed, he said, that the Cyprus and Aegean questions should be treated separately. But the Turks would rather deal with Cyprus as a Greek-Turkish issue, he declared. “I have rejected this view because Cyprus is an independent and sovereign state. I cannot make decisions for the Cypriots because even if I come to an agreement with Turkey I do not want to have to impose this agreement on Cyprus.” The Prime Minister said he had told Ecevit at Montreux that he would be willing to give good advice to the Greek Cypriots if the Turks would come up with reasonable proposals—but without this, he said, he had no basis to give advice.7 If the Turks really want to facilitate lifting of the embargo, PM Karamanlis said, they should either make good proposals or no proposals at all. If they made no proposals they could maintain that until the embargo was lifted, Turkey would do nothing. If they made good proposals the embargo could be lifted. Either way the situation would be clear. Instead they have made poor proposals and insist on having the embargo lifted; this only compli [Page 541] cates things, he said. He added that he did not consider the territorial proposals a respectable starting point for serious discussions; and on Varosha, he said, the Greeks estimated that only 15,000 people could be resettled at best. But even if the Turkish promises were accepted, there would still be 170,000 Greek Cypriot refugees. The constitutional proposals meant de facto partition, which was really the Turkish aim, he maintained, because constitutional impasse would soon develop if the Turkish system were implemented. The Turkish “solutions”, he said, would in the end create much greater problems than existed at present and America would again be drawn into new troubles. Turkish proposals for troop withdrawal really favored Turkey, because whether they had 30,000 or 10,000 troops, they could still maintain control. If they were pressured to take a large part of their troops off now, they would benefit their economy, for their occupation forces on Cyprus were costing $2 billion per year and were the main cause of current Turkish economic difficulties. Cyprus had made Turkey bankrupt, he said, and she deserved little sympathy or help for getting herself into this position. “I have told Ecevit and I have stated in Cyprus that they will become the prisoners of Cyprus—the internal situation in Turkey is very bad. A big part of this situation is due to the Cyprus question.”

The President interrupted to observe that he believed the Turks understood the burden the Cyprus problem caused them and were genuinely looking for a way out. He did not interpret their latest proposals as final or unalterable, he said, and he felt sure they were willing to talk on the basis of them and negotiate seriously. He urged the Greeks to consider negotiations, for “if negotiations are fruitless, then Greece will at least have done all she can.”

Mr. Karamanlis returned to his review of the problem and said that he did not think that the Cypriots were willing to take a chance on new talks; there had already been 8 phases of talks. The Prime Minister felt Mr. Waldheim felt the same way. If the Turks could improve their proposals, the Greek Cypriot side might be able to accept them as a basis for negotiations. Under such circumstances, he said, he would be willing to advise the Greek Cypriots to talk.

The President said he understood that Mr. Kyprianou had told Mr. Waldheim that he was not willing to negotiate on the basis of Turkish proposals. The Prime Minister said he would discuss the subject with Waldheim on Monday. The President asked who should be party to the negotiations. Mr. Karamanlis replied that talks should be between Ecevit and Kyprianou but added, “I know this is not acceptable to Ecevit. I do not control Kyprianou but Ecevit controls Denktaş.”

“This creates a stalemate,” the President replied; “The Turks will not agree that they have control of Denktaş and they probably overestimate your influence with Kyprianou.” “We must seek some way of [Page 542] breaking the stalemate and opening up the possibility of a solution,” the President insisted.

“Only Ecevit can break this impasse,” the Prime Minister replied.

“You can help,” the President responded.

“He is the man who conquered the island,” the Prime Minister declared; “he is the one who can make concessions. No other government can do it, but he can. I do not want to accuse Ecevit of anything, but I am convinced that the solution of all these problems is in his hands.”

The President observed that Ecevit, like the Prime Minister and like himself, may have political problems at home, but the Prime Minister countered, “I have more difficulties than any of you.” He went on to discuss anti-Americanism in Greece and commented on the fall in his own popularity as shown in last November’s elections. If the situation worsens, he said, he was not sure he could keep the situation under control. Turkey might be kept in the West, he said, at the expense of losing Greece. “If I suffer any further decline in my popularity, then there will be only chaos.” He went on to complain that Ecevit talked too much and generated too much tension about problems. This, he said, makes the job of settling them more difficult. “The matter should be handled in a way that keeps neither Greece nor Turkey from being lost. I will do my best in that direction. I hope that Mr. Ecevit will find the courage to discuss this with me.”

The President said he wished to reiterate the intense interest of the United States in its relations with Greece and in the situation in Cyprus. He observed that his Administration was devoting a great deal of time to the search for a solution to the differences between Greece and Turkey. “Without improperly intruding ourselves, we will continue our efforts to induce the Turks to make more forthcoming proposals. I would like to encourage you to keep an open mind and to be as forthcoming as possible. If you envision discussions on the Aegean as of major importance without knowing the outcome—we think it is also important to start discussions on Cyprus without knowing the outcome. Although the Turkish proposal is not adequate . . . they accept this to be just a first step,” the President concluded.

The Prime Minister said he sensed that the President was drawing a parallel between the Aegean and Cyprus and emphasized that he was proposing arbitration as a means of finding a solution in the Aegean. He felt that if this problem were solved first, the Cyprus problem could be easier. He saw a political advantage for both Greece and Turkey in having a neutral element involved, he declared; “not only do I accept dialogue; I also propose arbitration.”

As the meeting came to an end, the President smiled and said, “I think you realize that we have exactly the same amount of control over Prime Minister Ecevit that we have over you.”

[Page 543]

The Prime Minister, also smiling, replied, “You have influence over me. If we can find correct solutions, I will do exactly what you tell me.”

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 36, Memcons: President: 5/78. Confidential. Drafted by Henze. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
  2. Karamanlis was in Washington to attend the biannual NATO Ministerial meeting May 30–31. Paragraphs 12 and 13 of the final communiqué, adopted May 31, declared progress on mitigating Greek-Turkish tensions. Paragraph 12 reads: “The Allies noted with satisfaction the meeting of the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey. They expressed the hope that this dialogue on bilateral questions will contribute to the solution of the differences between the two countries.” Paragraph 13 reads: “The Allies reaffirmed the importance they attach to the strengthening of cohesion and solidarity especially in the South Eastern flank. They expressed the hope that existing problems will be resolved, and that full co-operation among members of the Alliance in all aspects of the defence field would be resumed.” For the full text of the communiqué, see the Department of State Bulletin, July 1978, pp. 8–10.
  3. He never stated what the other occasion was. [Footnote in the original.]
  4. See footnote 2, Document 52.
  5. Greece, which sought to challenge Turkish claims to the Aegean Sea continental shelf, brought the matter before the International Court of Justice on August 10, 1976. For its part, Turkey maintained that the Court did not have jurisdiction in the matter. An ICJ communiqué of April 26, 1978, noted that official hearings would begin on October 4. (Telegram 106627 to Geneva, April 26; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780179–0388) The ICJ received a letter from the Turkish Government on April 24 that reiterated the Turkish position that the ICJ was an inappropriate forum to mediate the dispute. On December 19, theICJ upheld the Turkish position. The Embassy relayed this information in telegram 7119 from The Hague, December 19. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780524–0633) See also Yearbook of the United Nations, 1978, p. 943.
  6. See Document 116.
  7. Ecevit and Karamanlis met in Montreux, Switzerland, March 10–11 to discuss the bilateral problems between their countries. A joint communiqué issued at the conclusion of the summit called the talks a success that would serve as a basis for future dialogue. The Embassy relayed this information in telegram 1895 from Ankara, March 13. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780111–0761)