Secretary of State Colin L. Powell canceled his trip to Greece at the last minute partly because of concern that his presence -- expected to be met with antiwar protests -- might disrupt the closing ceremony of the Olympics, State Department officials said yesterday.
Powell's decision, announced just hours before he was to depart, came after anti-American protests were held in Athens on Friday. The demonstrations featured "Powell Go Home" placards.
The secretary was not concerned about his own security, but he felt that the Greek organizers were entitled to carry out the Sunday night ceremony without the potential for distraction that his presence might cause, said two State Department officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Many Greeks wondered why Powell planned to visit this weekend, knowing his presence would probably provoke protests. Until Powell announced his visit, there were none of the anti-American demonstrations that had been feared in the run-up to the games.
He discussed the situation on Friday with Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis. Powell said he hopes to travel to Athens in October.
The officials said a contributing factor was the U.N. Security Council's debate this week over the performance of the Sudanese government in carrying out a council resolution on Sudan's Darfur region. The council set tomorrow as the deadline for Sudan to demonstrate that it is acting to improve security and humanitarian access in Darfur and to curb the Arab militias there.
Some council members, notably China and Pakistan, have been reluctant to take strong steps against Sudan. It is not clear what the United States will recommend during the upcoming deliberations.