Greek Socialists play for more US aid in talks on American military bases
Athens — On a highway to the Athens airport, where one of four American military bases in Greece is located, makeshift placards have appeared. They call for the removal of the American presence.
And last month, angry demonstrators took to the streets to protest the American bases in Greece, a member of NATO.
The bases, which are considered important to the United States because of Greece's proximity to the Mideast and the Soviet Union, are at the center of strained relations between Athens and Washington.
Negotiations on the status of the bases were interrupted in February following President Reagan's proposal to almost double US military aid to Turkey , a longtime foe of Greece.
Greek Premier Andreas Papandreou protested to Mr. Reagan that with the increase of military aid to Turkey - from $402 million in 1983 to $759 million in 1984, plus $175 million in economic aid - ''the administration departed from the longstanding practice of preserving the balance of military strength in the region of the Aegean.''
Mr. Papandreou said that a condition for the ''arrival at a mutually acceptable agreement is that the balance of forces in the region shall be preserved both qualitatively and quantitatively.''
Since 1953 the US has operated four main bases and several secondary installations on Greek soil. Talks on the renewal and streamlining of the agreement opened one year after the Socialists won power in 1981 but failed to move at a reasonable pace. After four months of negotiations interrupted three times, the two sides have not yet agreed on the basic philosophy for their operation, the amount of money to be paid for rent, and the duration for an agreement.
Before it came to power, the ruling Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK) was adamantly against the bases and called for a timetable for their removal. Now PASOK is negotiating for their continued presence in return for military aid that will ''secure Greece's defense to the east,'' as Papandreou describes it.
This means the military aid agreement between Greece and the US will secure for Greece enough military hardware to ensure its defense against Turkey, with whom Greece has a running dispute over the Aegean seabed and airspace.
PASOK also wants the agreement to specify a final date for the removal of the bases; to allow for the suspension of their operations in case of an emergency (mainly to prevent their use in any US operation in the Middle East that might be opposed by Arab states or the Palestine Liberation Organization); and to allow some sort of Greek control over their operations.
The Socialists maintain that the bases are serving only the strategic interests of the US and contribute nothing to Greece's defense or to NATO's aims. Although still in NATO, Greece, according to Papandreou, is no longer threatened from the north but only from the east where Turkey, another NATO ally , lies.
Greece's major opposition party, New Democracy, which failed to renew the bases agreement with Washington when it was in power up to 1981, says the bases are mutually beneficial. Former Foreign and Defense Minister Evangelos Averoff, who leads the party, said the bases contribute to the balance of power between East and West and therefore contribute to peace and to the security of Greece.
Despite that difference in approach to the problems of the bases and to the fact that New Democracy wanted an agreement renewable in the future depending on the international situation, the party will support an agreement with the US ''provided the government's positions are logical as we believe they will be,'' said Miltiadis Evert, a leading member of New Democracy.
The Communists, however, say the bases have to go. According to the Moscow-oriented Greek Communist Party (known in Greek as the KKE), the government ''should immediately close the bases, setting a final deadline for their removal.''
The Communists are also opposed to Papandreou linking the bases to the balance of power with Turkey and to US aid. They believe such a position ''would lead to a vicious circle of deep dependence on the Americans,'' a KKE spokesman said.
To support their position, the Communists have planned to stage demonstrations with their front organizations, such as the peace movement, the National Independence and International Peace and Detente Movement, and the National Union of Students for Anti-base Demonstrations.
The demonstrations included a Feb. 17 strike by the bases' Greek personnel, who have become more closely aligned with the Socialists and Communists.
At the same time, Greece and the Soviet Union will move a step forward in their efforts to promote economic cooperation with a visit of Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Tikhonov. Already Soviet and Greek experts have worked out a number of agreements to be signed in the economic, technological, financial, and cultural fields.
The agreements may include a provision for more Soviet ships to be repaired at the Syros shipyards in the Aegean. These facilities are used by unarmed Soviet ships.
As for the warships of the Soviet Mediterranean fleet, they are using two anchorages in the international waters of the Greek seas. One anchorage is off the eastern tip of Crete and the other south of the island of Kythera. Since both anchorages are just over a mile outside Greek territorial waters, it is very unlikely the Soviet Union will agree to Greece's doubling of its territorial waters to 12 miles - something that would turn the Aegean into almost a Greek lake and further strain relations with Turkey.