Andrea Papandreou, the stormy petrel of Greek politics, is back at the center of the action again, stirring memories and emotions that many here and in Washington would like to have left undisturbed. The onetime Berkeley economics professor, who has acquired a remarkable number of friends and enemies at the top levels of American politics, is the leading challenger to Prime Minister George Rallis in the election to be held here this fall. A frequent critic of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and American foreign policy, Papandreou is a dramatic figure whose election could mean a sharp change of direction in this land that grips both the imagination and the strategic interest of the United States.

For all these reasons, talking with and about "Andreas," as he is universally called in Athens' tight-knit political community, was the main diversion from archeology and beaches during a recent visit to this country.

Greece is the troubled partner in the NATO aliance, the only one more preoccupied with the perceived threat from an "ally," Turkey, than with the danger from Russia and its satellites.

Over the past two decades, its relations with the United States have ranged from tenuous to traumatic. Papandreou, now 62, has been a symbol of that tension. His candidacy revives memories of the 1967 colonels' coup that aborted the election that might have returned his father, George, to power. It revives the unproven allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency has a hand in that coup. By indirection, it heightens the whole question of American influence in Greece.

That question would be here, even if Papandreou were not. In the shorthand of politics, Rallis, 63, will probably be dubbed the "pro-American" candidate in the autumn election, but a visit with him in his sunny office in the Parliament building suggests that designation may not be one he covets -- or deserves.

The son of a former prime minister himself, Rallis won a hard-fought one-vote victory for the leadership of the New Democracy Party when longtime-Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis moved up to the position of president in May 1980. An organizer and workhorse, yrallis has labored in Karamanlis' shadow, but he has traveled throughout the country trying to build his personal following to withstand Papandreou's challenge. He has worked hard at the job, but with inflation soaring to a 30 percent rate early this year and controversy still surrounding the government's decision to bring Greece into the Common Market, he has not had an easy time.

With polls in the Athens area showing Papandreou's party ahead, Rallis last month broke off the lengthy negotiations for renewal of the agreement with the U.S. for the Sixth Fleet base in Crete's Souda Bay and othe U.S. installations on the mainland. Papandreou said the talks broke down because "even this right-wing government was unable to accept the unbearable conditions set by the U.S. side." But Rallis insisted that time had simply run out on concluding the discussions in time to submit a new agreement to parliament before the elections.

The prime minister is sometimes vexed by his dealings with the Americans. After offering a springtime visitor a glass of cold, tart juice from the orange tree outside his window, he says, in the least rancorous tone possible, "You have followed so stupid a policy toward Greece since 1967 that there is an anti-American sentiment here. It has lessened in the last four or five years, but you created the impression you were backing the dictatorship [from 1967 to 1974] even though you were not. And that is not forgotten."

It is certainly not forgotten by Papandreou, who forged his political identity as a victim and foe of the colonels -- and who carries in his political memory the suspicions of American policy in that period, when the United States gave military aid to the junta and conferred prestige on the unsavory regime of George Papadopoulos by the visits of Vice President Agnew and other high Nixon administration officials.

When I lunched with Papandreou and his Illinois-born, University of Minnesota-educated wife, Margaret, at a country restaurant north of Athens, it was that history of which he spoke.

He came to the United States in 1939, after being arrested for "leftist" activities by the right-wing government, studied at Harvard, Minnesota and Stanford and then taught economics at Minnesota and the University of California at Berkeley. During that time, Papandreou became active in Democratic Party affairs and developed a close friendship with such men as Hubert H. Humphrey, Walter Heller and John Kenneth Galbraith. It was not until 1959 that Papandreou returned to his homeland accepting an invitation from Karamanlis to create the first institute of advanced economic studies in this country.

He plunged into politics here, joining his father's efforts to bring the opposition Center Union Party into power. Despite Andreas Papandreou's close ties to leading Kennedy administration figures, his political efforts brought him into conflict with the American embassy here, which was clearly in the Karamanlis corner.

As the late Laurence Stern of The Washington Post recounted in his book, "The Wrong Horse," that conflict deepened when George Papandreou won first a plurality victory and then a majority in Parliament in the elections of 1963 and 1964. "Andreas Papandreou became an overpowering obsession of American foreign policy managers in Athens and Washington," Stern wrote. "The popular conception of Papandreou in the upper levels of the State Department was as a Svengali manipulating his aging and feeble father during the final years of the old man's otherwise distinguished political career."

King Constantine dismissed the Papandreou government in 1965, but in 1967, when the new elections were scheduled, the betting was that the Papandreous would be returned to power Stern quoted a memo from "a senior intelligence official" in the U.S. embassy who said, "We were concerned that if Papandreou won, Andreas would be in the driver's seat for all practical purposes. He would withdraw Greece from NATO, evacuate the United States bases . . ."

Stern reported that a recommendation from the embassy that $100,000 be given to anti-Papandreou candidates in swing districts was turned down in Washington. But on April 21, 1967, the colonels' coup aborted the elections scheduled for the following month. Neither Stern's book nor other sources found evidence of CIA or embassy complicity in that coup; on the contrary, the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that, despite some warnings from intelligence officials, the timing and source of the coup caught the American officials by surprise.

Papandreou's imprisonment. After six months in jail, he was released -- thanks in part to pressure from the Johnson administration and such old friends as Heller. He came to the United States, then settled in Canada to organize international opposition to the colonels' regime.

When Papandreou came back to Greece after the collapse of the junta in 1974, he formed PASEK, a new political party of the Left, with a base among the young people, civil servants and white-collar workers. His critics say that for years Papandreou tailored his rhetoric, particularly on foreign policy, to the most activist and leftist of his supporters. But as the election approached and his chances of winning grew, the critics say that Papandreou has trimmed his sails, seking to gain support from small businessmen and farmers opposed to radical change.

It was evident that Papandreou was choosing his words carefully in his discussion with The Washington Post. But equally it was clear that his views were shaped by the embittering experiences of his past.

"We are the only European country that has had a negative experience with NATO and the U.S.," he said. "The only one. NATO for us is the U.S. embassy, and it played a decisive role in our politics in the '50s." He recounted the history of his own relations with the embassy, culminating with the statement that "the 1967 coup was based on a NATO plan called Prometheus and was carried out by men who were the go-between from the CIA to the Greek government."

"In the present situation," he said, "we see the United States has chosen the spoiled child, Turkey, and has given Greece second place. Today, the basic question for a Greek is the reality of the Turkish threat. The military and the people and I are convinced that we are in for a generation of conflict with the Turks. The Turks are committed to the view that the Aegean is not a Greek sea but must be shared by Greece with Turkey.

"We see the United States and NATO sharing the Turkish view, because Turkey is so strategically important. This puts a heavy burden of defense costs on us, and our party has steadfastly backed all the budget proposals for the enhancement of Greek military might."

Prime Minister Rallis was almost as critical in our interview. "Sometimes," he said in a voice of great patience, "I cannot understand your policy. Six years ago, we asked the Ford administration to guarantee a 10-7 balance in the arms aid to Turkey and Greece. There was an oral understanding that for six years was observed. Then, in 1980, the Carter administration came up $20 million short -- $400 million for Turkey and $260 million, not $280 million, for Greece.

"Now, $20 million makes no great difference in the Greek budget, let alone the U.S. budget, but it created an atmosphere of fear. Congress is restoring the extra $20 million, but now the Turks are complaining. It is an unnecessary discussion; it is useless; it is dangerous. I'm not a fanatic and I don't play on the public emotions. But there is a fear all Greeks have of the Turkish ambitions toward the Aegean islands that are the cradle of Greek civilization. And you are inadvertently heightening that fear."

Papandreou said his tacit alliance with the military also shaped his political strategy. While expressing confidence PASEK would finish first in the coming elections, he flatly excluded a coalition with the Communists if he failed to win a majority in Parliament. "While PASEK is acceptable to the army," he said, "the collaboration of PASEK with the Communists would undoubtedly lead to intervention."

"Besides," he said, "I could not accept collaboration with the Communists because every day, they would be pressing for immediate fulfillment of the plan of PASEK, which cannot be done for 10 or 15 years."

His long-term design calls for socializing key sectors of the Greek economy and achieving redistribution of income. In foreign policy, he siad, one also must distinguish between "those of our policies that must be seen as goals and visions, on one hand, and the objectives we would seek in the next four to eight years, on the other hand."

"Our long-term vision is a Europe, East and West, outside the blocs. I have said we must end, a some time, the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, and that means no Warsaw Pact, no NATO. The climate of PASEK is the climate of nonalignement.

"In respect to the bases," he said, "we recognize they cannot be removed now from Greece, in view of the overall global and European coofrontation. But we would expect an annual review of the status of the bases -- a negotiation every year. We want no nuclear weapons in Greece. What we here are of very limited range, but the Soviets have told us they will attack us directly with nuclear weapons if they remain, and we see no reason to take that risk.

"And while the bases reamain," he said, "we would insist on being able to obtain the military equipment we need to defend the Aegean islands from invasion from the East."

"NATO," Papandreou said, "does not guarantee our Aegean frontiers any more than it protected us against the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. My policy toward NATO would turn on very practical questions. I doubt that our NATO obligations leave us with enought strength to meet the Turkish threat. So I would ask the generals what is needed to meet that Turkish threat, and I would meet their requirements before I turned to our NATO-assigned-and-earmarked commitments."

Those statements were more moderate in tone -- and, in some ways, in substance -- than others. Papandreou had made here at home. Indeed, in an interview with the opposition newspaper, To Vima, a few days after our lunch, Papandreou was quoted as saying, "PASEK is radically opposed to Greece's participation in Cold War blocs and is therefore radically opposed to the presence of foreign bases on our soil. . . .that means, in essence, . . . the preparation of a timetable for their removal. . . ."

When I saw Rallis, he had made a point about Papandreou which seemed pertinent. "I don't know if Andreas means what he says, or not, when he talks about abondoning NATO and developing closer realtions with the nonaligned bloc. But even if he does not believe it himself, he would have to follow it -- because many in his party do believe it. And they would hold him to it."