After nearly four years of bitter, acrimonious exchanges, Athens and Washington seem to have finally reached a long-awaited bend in the road leading to more friendly relations. Until recently Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou had made a career of bashing the United States, calling it an imperialist power, accusing it of fueling Turkish ambitions against Greece, and opposing its policies from arms control and international economics to foreign policies. He also promised to expel the US bases on Greek soil when the current base agreement expires in 1988.
Meanwhile, Mr. Papandreou's Socialist government adopted an openly tolerant, if not supportive, attitude toward the Soviet Union. This hostility toward the US found resonance in public opinion polls as well.
But in recent months both Papandreou and Greek public opinion have moved noticeably away from their anti-American positions, raising hopes that substantial, lasting improvement in relations may be on the way.
Whatever the domestic or international benefits of Papandreou's hitherto high-strung, anti-American nationalism, the Greek government clearly realized that it was time for a change, and early this year, it began to lower its tone. The campaign leading up to the prime minister's reelection last June was remarkable for the absence of any verbal attacks on the US -- previously a staple of Papandreou's appeal to the voters.
Recently, the Greek government and the pro-government press exercised uncharacteristic restraint on two recent problems that, only a few months earlier, would have triggered days, if not weeks, of vitriol against the US.
When a TWA jet was hijacked out of Athens airport in July, President Reagan advised American travelers to avoid Athens airport until security was improved. The Greek government initially protested the measure vigorously and claimed its safety record was second to none. Yet it moved quickly to improve security at the airport. And it conspicuously avoided any comment that would anger Washington, although the US advisory will cost the Greek economy as much as $240 million, according to many estimates.
The second issue was the US delay in granting a license to export 40 F-16 fighter jets to Greece, because of fears that the plane's advanced technology might not be secure against Soviet-bloc spies. Annoyed by the delay, the Greek government at first threatened to cancel the order and turn to another supplier, probably France, which has already approved the sale of 40 Mirage jets to Athens. Before long, however, the government spokesman announced it would meet with a US delegation at the end of this mon th and sign an agreement on security measures to safeguard the technology, as other US clients, such as Egypt and Turkey, have already done.
Also, Papandreou no longer threatens to withdraw his country from NATO. Finally Greek officials have become increasingly vague about whether and when they will fulfill their pledge to close the US bases on Greek soil when the current defense and economic cooperation agreement expires in 1988. It has become increasingly clear that Papandreou wishes to keep his options open. The current agreement on the bases will remain in effect after the expiration date unless one of the two countries moves to terminat e it.
The reasons for the shift in the official Greek attitude seem fairly clear. US administration and congressional sources in Washington said recently that the US government has taken a tougher stance against Greece's anti-American rhetoric.
Also, Greece's supporters in Congress have warned that they were finding it very difficult to convince skeptics that Greece should not be punished.
More specifically, however, Greece faces acute economic problems.
The solution will require greater cooperation with the US and European Community countries. The close relationship of Athens with Moscow brought it very little, if anything, in terms of tangible economic benefits. In 1986 and 1987 Greece faces a debt servicing hump it cannot hope to cross without help. According to Greek and foreign political and economic observers, all this adds up to a pressing need for improved ties with the West -- and with the US in particular.