45 years earlier

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Usually, the start of a new year is a time for wishes; for positive thoughts; for planning ahead. This time round, it would rather seem a time for buckling up – especially so if one looks at things in our part of the world (such part being the South Balkans; the Eastern Mediterranean; the region earlier described in the West as the Near East).

Greece – for this is the more specific place we look from at things global – was fortunate enough this time to enter the third decade of the tumultuous 21st century with its economy in a (comparatively) stabilised state. Geopolitical tensions do abound, but the fact that latter-day alliances seem maturing – the EastMed gas pipeline project, with Israel and Cyprus on board, with Italy around the corner, with the US nodding positively all the way – gave some kind of comfort against Turkish rowdiness in the region. New-era defense cooperation with the US, building on Souda Bay/Crete enhanced capacity but also in UAV-deployment in Larissa, helicopter presence in Volos etc, seemed promising enough.

And just right now, the Donald Trump-ordered, UAV-executed killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani (to add insult to injury, the strike took place on Iraqi soil, near Baghdad airport) shows how tough it is to stay in line with major players in this God-forsaken region of the world. Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis takes the trip to Washington D.C., to meet with (predictably unpredictable) President Trump; on the same day U.S. Foreign Secretary Mike Pompeo is to meet with Cypriot President Anastasiadis in Nicosia.

Some 45 years ago (on June 1964) then-Greek P.M. Georgios Papandreou (grandfather of George Papandreou) met in Washington with then -US President. Lyndon Johnson. It took more than 20 years for the background of that meeting to start surfacing: back then Greek public opinion had formed the impression that the Greek side (G. Papandreou had on his side Greek Foreign Minister St. Kostopoulos, but also Coordination Minister Andreas Papandreou – his son, later to become a central figure of Greek politics, but also with an important role in stage-managing the public image of the Greek Government at the time) rejected American plans to defuse Greek-Turkish enmity over Cyprus in a way detrimental to Greek interests. (The Acheson Plan -named after Dean Acheson, a former US Secretary of State, “the embodiment of the American Establishment”, provided for Cyprus union with Greece, but with two or three Turkish-Cypriot cantons, plus a Turkish 50-year lease over a base on Karpasia, the easternmost tip of Cyprus). If compared to later efforts to resolve the Cyprus impasse once the Turkish invasion of 1974 had changed radically things on the ground, the Acheson Plan might look quite tame indeed. At the time, though, it had created an impression of US high-handedness in the region – along with some talk about hidden demands (especially over additional Greek concessions of a territorial nature, namely concerning the island of Kastellorizo).