Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, the first Greek premier invited to the White House in 26 years, said yesterday that he intends to return the often contentious U.S.-Greek relations to the "old times" of close cooperation and trade.
Mitsotakis, referring to the nearly constant friction between the United States and Greece during the government of Socialist prime minister Andreas Papandreou, said, "We went through a period during which relations were not what they should have been." He added that he wanted to "normalize fully" relations between the two countries.
Mitsotakis, in an interview, said the highest priority on his foreign policy agenda was to persuade President Bush to put pressure on the Turkish government to make new concessions to end the 16-year-old division of the island of Cyprus. Mitsotakis suggested that Washington's influence could persuade Turkey to cut its occupation forces in half on the Mediterranean island as "an indication of goodwill."
Speaking through an interpreter, the 71-year-old conservative said his government also would reopen negotiations with General Dynamics Corp. on the controversial sale of 40 F-16 fighters concluded under his predecessor, Papandreou. He said Athens also would review a contract to buy a similar number of French Mirage fighters from Dassault.
Mitsotakis, who is preparing for his first NATO summit meeting in London next month, said, "I believe the unification of Germany will prove beneficial for European unity." Mitsotakis, a prisoner of the Germans during World War II, said he understood Soviet security concerns about a united Germany but added, "I believe in the good faith of the Germany of today."
Papandreou's government often inflamed anti-American rhetoric in Greece and political opposition to continuing to allow four U.S. military bases on Greek soil. Mitsotakis said his decision last week to initial an eight-year agreement for two bases had "not met with serious negative response in Greek public opinion."
The agreement calls for the closing of two installations near Athens that had aroused anti-American sentiment over the years. The principal remaining installations are on the southern island of Crete.
Mitsotakis said that for his country, which receives about $350 million a year in military assistance from the United States, the "main problem . . . is the balance of power with Turkey in the Aegean," so the bases "are useful to us because they are linked" to U.S. security assistance.
Mitsotakis blamed Turkey for the longstanding stalemate over the future of Cyprus, partitioned after a 1974 invasion by Turkey. He said Turkey was "indifferent" to the negotiations.
"The United States cannot remain neutral in this," he said, adding that he would ask Bush today for help. "My impression is that if the U.S. upgrades the Cyprus issue" and makes it a priority, "then Turkey would not remain indifferent."