193. Letter From Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis to President Carter1

Dear Mr President,

The appointment of the new Greek Ambassador to Washington gives me a welcome opportunity to communicate with you and to express, together with my sincere esteem, certain thoughts on the relations of our two countries.

I sincerely believe that no problems exist in the purely bilateral U.S.-Greek relationship. This relationship could be exemplary, considering the traditional friendship that unites our two peoples. However, it is directly and adversely affected by problems created by Turkey, which concern vital Greek interests. It is the attitude of the U.S. Government with regard to these particular problems which at times casts a shadow over the relations of our two countries. The Government of the U.S. is undoubtedly entitled to assess its proper interests and to determine its policies accordingly. Nobody, of course, can ask it to act against its interests, although in specific cases, the validity of its assessment could be questioned. The principle itself, however, cannot be challenged. According to the same principle the Greek Government [Page 590] also has the right to make its own assessments and to point out the effect that these policies may have on its own interests.

As I mentioned before, Mr. President, all the basic conditions are there for the relations of our two countries to be exemplary. If this is not so, it is because these relations are negatively influenced by Turkey. I accept that the U.S. is interested in and desires to maintain Greece’s friendship as well as Turkey’s. This, however, can only be achieved if one country is not assisted at the expense of the other, particularly when the assistance is given to the country which is in the wrong.

You are aware that Turkey threatens the security of Greece. She has occupied half of Cyprus. She claims half the Aegean, which is interspersed with Greek islands. She has annihilated the Greek minority of Istanbul.2 And now she obstructs Greece’s reintegration into NATO.

I do not think, Mr. President, that I ought to go into detail over these problems, particularly since I had the honour and the pleasure to discuss them with you when we met in Washington last year.3 But I would like to make some remarks on the turn that events have taken since.

It is a fact that the arms embargo against Turkey was lifted on the grounds that the solution of the Cyprus problem would be thus facilitated. This expectation was not fulfilled. On the contrary, as I had foretold at that time, Turkey became more intransigent. And I think that Turkey’s behaviour has put the U.S. Government and Congress in an embarassing position.

It is equally true that the problems that Turkey created to the detriment of Greece in the Aegean remain unsolved. In spite of the moderation shown by the Greek Government in order to facilitate their solution, Turkey still clings to positions which are not only politically and legally but also logically unacceptable. If these positions prevailed, they would result in breaking the unity of the Greek State. Seen in this light, the danger to peace in this area of the world is obvious. And this danger is reinforced by the fact that Turkey’s aggressiveness is encouraged, if unwillingly, by the material and political assistance that she is granted, despite your Government’s declared intention to maintain the existing balance of forces between the two countries. Maintaining this balance is, on the other hand, the reason for which the Greek-U.S. De[Page 591]fense Cooperation Agreement has been linked with the U.S.-Turkish Defense Cooperation Agreement.

But what is incomprehensible for every reasonable man, is the way the question of Greece’s reintegration into NATO has evolved. All the members of the Alliance with your Government at their head, strive with all their means to save Turkey for NATO. But at the same time they allow her to weaken NATO by her aggressiveness against Greece and particularly by frustrating Greece’s reintegration, which serves the interests of the Alliance as well as those of Turkey.

As you know, Greece withdrew from NATO’s integrated military structure because one of its members invaded Cyprus. An invasion for which Turkey has been condemned by the international Organizations and by the U.S., who imposed an arms embargo against her. It is equally known that Greece had declared that she would return to the Alliance when justice was meted out to the Cypriot people. Although there was no progress on Cyprus, my Government proposed our reintegration into the Alliance in spite of the reactions of Greek public opinion. But contrary to its reasonable expectation that its proposals would be accepted without reservations, it is confronted with conditions put forward by Turkey, as the latter believes that she is offered the opportunity to influence through these conditions her other differences with Greece. Unfortunately, the Alliance, instead of disapproving Turkey’s behaviour, encourages her by her tolerance and recommends negotiations on proposals which are politically unacceptable and militarily impracticable.

Mr. President, to leave this situation unsolved creates indeed difficult problems for all of us and may have adverse repercussions on the particular sector of our defense cooperation that presupposes Greek participation in NATO. You certainly understand that the impression which is being created that Greece accepts conditions for her reintegration instead of posing conditions herself, offends the dignity of my country as well as that of my Government, which must as a result justify its policy to Greek public opinion. The reactions of the latter narrow the margin within which my Government has to decide whether to withdraw or maintain its proposals for reintegration. I would wish that the Alliance find ways—as I believe it has—to eliminate this dilemma.

Mr. President, the ending of the tragedy of Cyprus, the settlement of the dangerous problems of the Aegean and the reinforcement of the Alliance through my country’s reintegration, depend on Turkey, because it is Turkey who created and keeps these problems alive. Greece does not object to aid for Turkey, so as to enable her to stand on her feet again. She believes, however, that parallel to the aid given to Turkey, an effort must be undertaken to make her see reason. Otherwise aid [Page 592] will prove ineffective and the situation in our region might worsen dangerously.

I regret, Mr President, that even recently a statement—in my opinion an unfortunate one—made by a spokesman of your Government on the subject of the contract between the Syros Shipyards and the Soviet Company “Sudoimport” has given rise to understandable reactions in Greece.4 This statement creates the impression that the United States has doubts as to Greece’s attachment to the West. I cannot hide from you my surprise at that. Not only because Greece is a sovereign country aware both of her obligations as an ally and of her rights. But also because most recently she has proved through deeds where she chose to belong, first through her accession to the European Community and second through her request to reestablish her links with NATO.

Mr. President, in this letter I have tried to review the relations of our two countries. I am convinced that, the feeling of friendship which has united our two peoples without interruption for over two centuries and manifested itself at all the critical moments of the history of our two nations, is vividly preserved deep in their hearts. I believe that by a common effort it is possible to scatter the clouds which at times cast a shadow over our relations. I think that this should not prove difficult, as these problems are due not to a clash of mutual interests but to the unfortunate intervention of a third party.

With my high regard and best wishes,

Sincerely yours,

Constantine Karamanlis
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 7, Greece: Prime Minister Constantine Caramanlis, 2/77–10/79. No classification marking. John Tzounis, the new Greek Ambassador to the United States, delivered the letter when he presented his credentials to President Carter. Tzounis was appointed Ambassador on September 4.
  2. By “annihilation,” Karamanlis was likely referring to ethnic and religious persecution, denial of property rights, and other methods designed to force emigration of ethnic Greeks from Turkey. According to a recent study by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Greek population of Turkey declined throughout the 20th century, but it did not cite any state-sponsored, systematic program of killing or “ethnic cleansing” of Greeks in Turkey.
  3. See Document 175.
  4. Following a visit to the Soviet Union by Karamanlis in October, an unprecedented trip by a Greek Prime Minister, Greece and the Soviet Union signed an agreement that would allow Soviet ships to undergo repair at Greek ports. Greek officials subsequently defended this decision, stating that business dealings with the Soviet Union were part of a process of normalizing bilateral relations and that this put Greece in step with other Western European nations. Greek officials further stressed that the existence of Soviet ships in the region was of minor strategic significance. The spokesman Karamanlis referred to was likely Admiral Harold E. Shear, Commander in Chief, Allied Forces Southern Europe, who called the Greek-Soviet deal detrimental to Western security. (Paul Anastasi, “The Greeks Have a Word For It and It’s Independence,” The New York Times, November 4, 1979, p. E5)