Greek leader adopts more conciliatory tone toward US. But disputes over bases, NATO aren't expected to go away soon
Athens — With a solid election victory behind him, Andreas Papandreou appears ready to move toward a more constructive relationship with his Western allies. ``It was not in our intentions, even the last four years, to create unnecessary problems or to worsen relations'' with the United States, the Greek prime minister said Wednesday. But, he said, ``Problems don't just disappear because a new government has been elected.''
Mr. Papandreou's remarks, made during his first major press conference since beating his conservative opponent in Sunday's national elections, were notable for their conciliatory tone and lack of inflammatory rhetoric.
Western diplomats caution, however, that with the economy on his mind, one should not expect great changes in the substance of US-Greek relations. Papandreou said the top priority of his new administration would be stabilize the economy; inflation is 18 percent, unemployment 10 percent, and the foreign debt is more than $12 billion.
Concerning the US military bases in Greece, Papandreou would not confirm or deny that he intended not to renew the current agreement when it expires in 1988. The agreement does not require removal of the bases after it expires and can be extended indefinitely.
Some Western diplomatic and Greek political sources speculate that Papandreou might gradually want to back down from his pledge to close the bases soon after 1988. They point out that Greece receives $500 billion in military aid from the US each year, in part as compensation for the bases. A reduction or elimination of that aid would upset the balance of power between Greece and Turkey and do great damage to the country's foreign-policy interests.
Papandreou also cited the ``problem of the Aegean, namely the Turkish threat against Greece in the Aegean, the favoritism that NATO shows to Turkish positions, especially in connection with exercises in the Aegean.'' (Greece and Turkey are both members of NATO.)
Greece has refused to participate in NATO maneuvers in the Aegean Sea because of a dispute with Turkey over the military status of Limnos, a Greek island in the north. Papandreou said he would not change that policy.
Papandreou said he believes that the peoples of Greece and Turkey ``would like to live in peace.'' But he stressed that no dialogue with Turkey was possible until it recognized the ``legal status'' of the Aegean as laid out in international law and treaties and agreed to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Cyprus. Turkey has occupied the north of Cyprus since 1974.
Foreign diplomats and Greek officials stressed that even if the tone of Greece's relations with the West changes, serious problems will remain in the relationship as long as Greece and Turkey do not resolve their problems. They point out that Western interests in the area, in particular the desire to strengthen the southeastern flank of NATO, will remain difficult to attain unless Greece and Turkey reach some kind of understanding.
``If in fact Papandreou rebalances his rhetorical approach to foreign policy and eliminates the anti-American stuff, this will be a very positive development and will help give political strength to the relationship and NATO,'' a diplomat said. ``But that's only the start of the hard work. In practical terms, Greek foreign policy will not change unless and until the practical, the real problems are worked out.''