Papandreau tries to let steam out of US-Greek pressure cooker

Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou seems to be trying to reduce the tensions that have increasingly troubled Greece's relations with the United States and NATO.

Mr. Papandreou recently commented at length on his country's troubled relationship with Turkey and NATO. His remarks could not be described as conciliatory, but they were devoid of the harsh anti-American, often pro-Soviet rhetoric that has so angered Washington.

On July 27, Mr. Papandreou held meetings with Turkish Ambassador to Athens Nazmi Akiman and NATO's new secretary-general, Lord Carrington.

These meetings and the Papandreou comments came less than two weeks after the latest blowup in US-Greek relations and during a period of stepped-up diplomatic activity designed to defuse the latest crisis. The crisis had broken out when the US criticized Greece for its anti-American, pro-Soviet rhetoric and for alleged laxity in combating international terrorism.

After reports began to circulate that the US might not allow Norway to sell Greece American-built F-5 jet fighters, allotting them to Turkey instead, Athens exploded, charging the US with interfering in Greece's sovereign affairs. The Greek government warned that it might be forced to review the entire range of US-Greek relations, including the base agreement signed only one year ago.

After a meeting between US Ambassador Monteagle Sterns and Papandreou and a surprise visit to Athens by NATO's supreme commander, Gen. Bernard Rogers, the crisis began to subside. But many questions remained about the future of Greek-NATO relations, which have been severely strained by Greek-Turkish disputes since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

During a July 27 press conference, Papandreou reiterated well-known positions but seemed eager to explain those stances and to assure his questioners that Greece did not seek confrontation with any nation but was merely determined to defend itself.

He said he told Ambassador Akiman that ''if Turkey wants peace in the area, she can do it. If not, then there will be a sizable cost to both countries. There is no doubt that defense is a huge, excessive portion of our national expenditure. But what else can we do when there is a clearly defined course of expansion against Hellenism?''

He cited the Cyprus situation, Turkish claims to control the air space over Greek islands in the eastern Aegean, and the existence of the Turkish Aegean Army with some 170 landing craft as evidence of the threat.

Referring to Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal's offer to reopen talks between the two countries, broken off by Greece after Turkey became the only country to recognize the unilateral Turkish-Cypriot declaration of independence last November, Papandreou said that under the present circumstances such a step ''would be a betrayal of the Cypriot people and of the nation in general.''

Instead, he asserted, ''Before extending the hand of friendship and an olive branch, Mr. Ozal should understand that this (Aegean) army, those landing craft, and the newly acquired attack helicopters do not create conditions for neighborly relations.''

Papandreou dismissed the possibility that Greece's problems within NATO could be resolved unless the eastern limits of the area under Greek control were the same as before the 1974 Cyprus crisis, when Greece withdrew from the military arm of NATO to protest what it considered a US tilt toward Turkey. Turkey has since claimed control over the air space of half the Aegean.

The prime minister pointed out that even minor adjustments of the 1974 limits would give Turkey primary responsibility for the defense of Greek territory.

According to Papandreou, ''NATO itself is disputing our territorial integrity'' in Greece's disputes with Turkey in the Aegean. NATO was doing this, he said, by refusing to recognize ''the basic NATO principle'' that each member in the alliance is responsible for its own defense, insisting instead that it is a political problem that must be negotiated by Greece and Turkey.

Papandreou also dismissed a threat during the recent crisis that if the United States upset the balance of power between Greece and Turkey through unbalanced aid and arms sales policies, Greece might turn to the Soviet Union for weapons.

Papandreou said, ''The attempt to change the character of our weapons from Western to Eastern (would) have, I believe, certain consequences which I would rather not describe.''

Greece announced Tuesday it will buy $3 billion worth of fighter aircraft from American or French manufacturers. It will choose between two US-made planes - the F-18, and the F-16 - and the French Mirage. The F-18, the only plane that meets all of Greece's requirements, is reported to be experiencing structural problems. This has caused the US Navy to stop delivery of future aircraft.

(On Friday, Greece and the US signed an agreement ending a bitter four-week strike by local employees of US military bases in Greece, Reuter reports. The agreement, affecting 1,600 employees, provides for a wage increase but does not satisfy workers' demand for a 90-minute reduction in the 39-hour work week.)

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