Illness prevented Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko from meeting today with Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, a Greek government spokesman said today.
Chernenko, 73, who was last seen publicly on Dec. 27, had been expected by Greek officials to meet with Papandreou at midafternoon today. A Greek Embassy spokesman said the meeting was officially canceled late this morning.
"The planned meeting of the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party was not able to take place due to the illness of Mr. Chernenko," said Greek spokesman Dimitrios Maroudas at a press briefing, according to both the Russian and English translations. He gave no details.
Spokesmen for the Soviet Foreign Ministry said that Chernenko was "out of Moscow" but provided no details on his condition.
In keeping with their practice, the Soviets had never definitely confirmed Chernenko's meeting with Papandreou, and protocol would not require a Soviet president to meet with a prime minister.
But Greece, although a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has been taking positions under Papandreou's Socialist government that have veered away from the western alliance and as a special gesture, Chernenko, his health permitting, had been expected to meet with Papandreou.
Chernenko's most crucial public appearance, however, is expected to take place Feb. 22 when he is scheduled to make a speech to his constituency as a candidate for the Soviet legislature.
Still, the meeting with Papandreou had taken on particular significance after a spate of divergent official statements from Moscow about Chernenko's health.
Last Thursday night, an official Soviet statement said Chernenko had been present at a meeting of the Politburo that day. The day before, Viktor Afanasiev, editor of the Communist Party paper Pravda, told Italian television that Chernenko was ill, but still "in charge of the party and the country."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko, on Feb. 1, described Chernenko as being "on winter holiday near Moscow," and denied he was seriously ill.
A Soviet official today, while not denying Chernenko was ill, said he knew only that the leader was currently outside Moscow but noted he had been in the city recently for important meetings.