More than a month before he arrives to take up his new post here, U.S. Ambassador-designate Robert V. Keeley has become embroiled in a Greek political row because of remarks made during his Senate confirmation hearings.
During a week with not much political news and with the Greek capital bathed in a searing heat wave that seemed to slow things down even more, the future ambassador was alternately reviled by the nation's pro-American conservative opposition for his statements and guardedly praised by officials of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou's often anti-American Socialist government.
At issue were seemingly innocuous remarks made by the U.S. diplomat in answer to a question from Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.) during Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings last week. Keeley said that in the "couple of decades" after World War II, when the U.S. government was helping to shore up the Greek economy and civil-war battered political system, there had been a "client-patron" or "dependency relationship" between the two nations. That type of relationship should be avoided in the future, Keeley said.
Early this week, when word of Keeley's remarks first reached Greece, the news was promptly bannered in two right-wing daily newspapers, sparking a political row over the propriety of the Greek government accepting Keeley's appointment. Keeley was confirmed by the Senate committee Wednesday.
In the absence of opposition New Democracy party chief Constantine Mitsotakis -- who was on a visit to the United States -- former prime minister George Rallis took umbrage at the statement because it seemed to imply that his and other previous governments had allowed themselves to be "subservient" to Washington.
Honorary New Democracy president Evangelos Averoff, who served as foreign minister for seven years in two previous New Democracy governments, fueled the controversy by charging that Keeley's statement was "naive, unfounded and, perhaps, unintentionally offensive" to Greece.
Papandreou's Socialist government, which long has sought to underscore its independence by attacking previous Greek subservience to Washington, could hardly hide its glee.
Foreign Ministry officials privately praised Keeley's statement, calling it "very positive and objective."
Government spokesman Costas Laliotis then put the feeling on the record, stating, "His Keeley's statements are significant because they reveal a decades-old truth about Greece's ties of subservience and dependence" on the United States.
The dispute thus quickly became an internal political argument between the government and the opposition, with each using Keeley's statements to lambaste the other in a period of summer doldrums when politics has almost come to a halt with onset of the August holidays.
A statement issued yesterday by the State Department in Washington and distributed here partly calmed the issue, which one European diplomat called a "typical Greek tempest in a teapot."
The U.S. statement said that Keeley's alleged use of the word "subservient" was "a misquotation and a misinterpretation of Ambassador Keeley's remarks" that were supposed to refer only to the two decades after the war when Greece "needed American assistance to survive as a free democratic state and avoid a communist takeover."
The statement added that the same could be said for many other states in Western Europe after the war and that "neither Ambassador Keeley nor anyone else in the U.S. government believes that the freely elected democratic governments during this period and thereafter were subservient to the United States."
The statement from Washington seemed to calm the New Democracy party's ire. After Mitsotakis convened his party leaders for a meeting yesterday the party issued a communique terming Keeley's remarks as "unfortunate, superficial and detrimental to U.S.-Greek relations" but "welcoming" the State Department communique.