Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou said yesterday he does not intend to unilaterally shut down U.S. military bases in his country, but will seek negotiations with U.S. officials early next year on the status of the bases.
"We are against bases, against nuclear arms," Papandreou, Greece's first Socialist prime minister, said on "Issues and Answers" (ABC-WJLA).
"At the same time, we recognize that America is a superpower, that America has its own strategic, vital interests in the region," he said. "We recognize also that it would be foolish to move toward confrontation between Greece and the United States. So, I think the first thing to clarify is that we do not act unilaterally.
"We shall be ready early next year, I think, to begin negotiations with the American side on the status of the American bases in Greece," Papandreou said. He said the discussions should at least leave Greece with "the right of annual review" of the American presence.
Such a right of review would allow Greece "to have complete information and control" over the American bases, a control that Papandreou said is needed to prevent "the launching of some military operation from Greek soil against a third country with which we maintain good relations." It would also ensure that any military information gathered by Americans on Greek soil does not get transmitted to Turkey, "which would of course weaken our defense capability," he said.
Papandreou, leader of Greece's Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), was elected Oct. 18. He had campaigned on a platform calling for Greek withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and closing U.S. military bases in Greece.
But after his election, Papandreaou said he would delay any major foreign policy initiatives to concentrate on domestic problems.
State Department spokesman Joseph Reap said Papandreou's latest comments "probably will be discussed" by ranking department officials at a meeting today. But another U.S. diplomatic source said the prime minister's comments yesterday indicate no real change in his, or his party's position.
"We have to be very careful because the manifesto of the party is still the same. We want to have the best relationship we can" with the new Greek government, the source said. "But so far, we haven't had any direct communications with them."
On the matter of NATO, Papandreou said the United States and other members of the alliance care little about protecting Greece from Turkey, an eastern neighbor and also a NATO member.
"There is complete unwillingness" on the part of the United States and NATO "to recognize . . . that there exists a sharp, difficult and dangerous problem for Greece from our east," Papandreou said. He said Turkey seeks to control half the Aegean "in the air, on the sea and the continental shelf--a problem which has forced the Greek government . . . to maintain a high level of military readiness at the expense of programs for education, health and social measures that are needed to support the lower income classes."
In a related development, the Associated Press reported from Moscow yesterday that Pravda, the Communist Party daily newspaper, charged that the United States was using "unconcealed pressure and intimidation" to keep U.S. bases in Greece and Greece in NATO.
Pravda said U.S. criticism of Greece on military matters shows that Washington has no intention of easing "the tight grip of Atlantic solidarity on the necks of its NATO partners," the AP reported.
Papandreou said yesterday that his position on American bases and NATO should not be seen as a tilt toward Moscow.
"There is no possibility of Greece leaving a bloc merely to join another one," he said.