The political climate in Athens, indeed throughout Greece, seems to be as hot as the weather. The Socialist government of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou has created frequent contretemps with the Reagan administration in Washington in recent years. Greek official recalcitrance is widely blamed by many businessmen and opposition spokesmen for the woes now troubling Greece as a result of the U.S. president's remarks about lax security at the Athens airport and his warning to American tourists to keep clear of Greece this summer.
Political commentary that could be considered detrimental to the prime minister's program is unhealthy particularly for foreign reporters who hope to remain in Greece reporting the news. Considerable frustration is felt among some U.S. embassy officials who have to deal with the Greek government.The Joint United States Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG) is in the midst of conflicting Greek government political programs. Although Greece and Turkey are technically NATO allies, JUSMAG has had a problem with the Greeks on such items as the tanks the United States sent the Papandreou government. Instead of placing them opposite potential Soviet breakthrough points, the Greeks insist on placing them on the border with their Turkish neighbors.
The ambassador from the United States to Greece, Robert Keeley, must summon every ounce of diplomacy at his command, which is considerable, to avoid making even the most innocuous remark that could be taken awry by the touchy Greek bureaucracy. The Athens News recently underlined the mediatory intricacies of the ambassador's position in what may have been an apocryphal report.
Headlined "Envoy's Remarks Set Off Storm," an anonymously contributed editorial states that at a social gathering the previous week the U.S. ambassador was heard to remark that it was "quite hot" in Athens. The ambassador's wife was overheard saying she agreed with her husband about the temperature. The statements by the U.S. diplomatic couple were duly reported in the opposition newspaper's social column and the reaction was immediate.
An official declaration issued by the Central Committee of the Greek Communist party (KKE) stated that "the American ambassador has no right to comment on the weather in Greece. His statement constitutes an interference in the country's internal affairs." The political office of the opposition New Democracy Party also issued a statement: "This ambassador should explain whom he is blaming for the hot weather in Athens. Our party, being in opposition, is not responsible for the weather, for which PASOK, as the government in power, is strictly responsible."
The government press spokesman, Militades Papaioannou, was quick to react to reporters' questions about the U.S. ambassador's statement and the reactions of the political parties. The Athens News reported that Mr. Papaioannou said, "Mr. Keeley was expressing personal opinions about the weather, which he is entitled to do since he has been suffering from the heat like everyone else who has not yet gone on vacation. In fact, the weather outside Athens has been perfect, and no program to improve it is required of the government."
Another partisan political pundit could not believe that the U.S. ambassador was expressing personal opinions. He must have been speaking under instructions from Washington. Did this mean that President Reagan was trying to sabotage what little remained of the tourist season in Greece. Since he could not renew the "travel advisory" after the terrorist bombing of a TWA airplane earlier in the year, he had instructed the U.S. ambassador to declare that it was so hot in Athens this summer that Americans should not visit Greece?
In a newspaper article that went beyond the position of his New Democracy Party, opposition leader Athanassios Kanelopoulos accused Mr. Keeley of engaging in a Machiavellian plot to encourage a shortfall in imports of heating oil into Greece so that next winter the Greek people would freeze.
A reporter from The Athens News, according to the story, finally succeeded in reaching Mr. Keeley by telephone and asked him what he had meant by the statement.
His reply was: "What statement?"
The News reporter said, "About the weather. Why did you say it was quite hot?"
Mr. Keeley: "As compared with what?"
The reporter, mystified by the answer pressed the ambassador to explain what he meant.
Mr. Keeley: "Well compared with the temperature in Iceland it has been quite hot here. But compared with the temperature in the Gobi Desert it has been quite cool here. Actually, the humidity has been quite low, so I haven't experienced any discomfort."