A New Era in Greek-US Relations

Article excerpt

DURING the first week of June, Constantine Mitsotakis became the first Greek Prime Minister to visit the White House in 26 years. That's a long gap for two countries with such strong cultural and historical ties. But Mr. Mistotakis's visit to the White House may signal the end of a rocky chapter in the US-Greek relationship and the opening of a new era of close cooperation between the two countries.

Turbulence marked relations throughout the 70s and 80s. Greeks haven't forgotten then Vice-President Spiro Agnew's toasting of the Greek junta - the same generals responsible for imprisoning thousands of Greeks, including Mitsotakis himself. Nor have the Greeks forgotten (or forgiven) the US failure to intervene with Turkey to prevent the brutal invasion of Cyprus in 1974. When Greek officers stationed on Cyprus overthrew Greek-Cypriot President Makarios, the Turks invaded claiming defense of the Turkish-Cypriot community. Makarios regained power, but the troops remained. Today on Cyprus, 35,000 troops and twice that number of settlers continue to occupy the northern third of the island.

Relations went from bad to worse in the 1980s with the election in Greece of Andreas Papandreou, a charismatic speaker and ardent nationalist who campaigned on a pledge to remove US bases from Greek soil. While he never made good on the promise, his tenure was marked by anti-American rhetoric. Relations sank when, as part of US anti-terrorism policy, the Reagan administration slapped Greece with a travelers' advisory - of no small consequence to a country heavily dependent on tourism.

The April election of Mitsotakis came after a period of political and economic turmoil in Greece. While Papandreou's government collapsed amid charges of corruption, the economy went into a tailspin. After three elections in the space of 10 months, Mitsotakis attained the needed majority to form a government. The prime minister now has set his sights on turning around the economy and mending fences with the US.

In his first months in office, Mitsotakis has begun clearing away the underbrush in relations with the US. His government initiated a new base agreement, extending US base rights for another 8 years. …