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Cablegate: Sea Change at Souda Bay: New Local Politicians

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OO RUEHIK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTH #0625/01 0860818
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 270818Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8557
INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/COMUSNAVEUR NAPLES IT PRIORITY
RUENAAA/CNO WASHDC PRIORITY
RUDKSR/EUCOM PLANS AND ANALYSIS STAFF STUTTGART GE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JCS WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/NAVSUPPACT SOUDA BAY GR PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ATHENS 000625

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: MARR PREL GR
SUBJECT: SEA CHANGE AT SOUDA BAY: NEW LOCAL POLITICIANS
SEEK BETTER RELATIONS


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: During a March 22 visit to Crete to attend
the retirement ceremony for departing Captain Sale,
Ambassador met local mayors and the new nomarch (governor) of
Chania. The positive reception Ambassador received was
markedly different from his very frosty meetings with the old
leftist leadership and augured well for good cooperation
between the local communities and Souda Bay NSA. The new
local politicians stressed their desire for more USN ship
visits and promised to do what they could to resolve
outstanding issues, such as the stalled Marathi fuel
pipeline. END SUMMARY.

SEA CHANGES AT SOUDA BAY
------------------------

2. (SBU) On March 22, Ambassador traveled to Crete to deliver
the keynote address at the retirement ceremony for Souda Bay
Naval Support Activity (NSA) commander Captain Steven Sale.
Ambassador also paid calls on several local politicians with
whom Souda NSA deals on a regular basis, including Governor
(Nomarch) of Chania Grigoris Archondakis, Mayor of Chania
Kiriakos Virvidakis, and Mayor of Akrotiri Mikalis Kynigos.
Virvidakis had previously served as mayor and was re-elected
in the October 2006 local elections. Archondakis and Kynigos
are new to their positions. All three are members of New
Democracy.

3. (SBU) Overall, the meetings focused on the need for good
relations and cooperation. Such discussions in another
context would be unremarkable but in the case of Souda Bay
represented a radical change from the situation that had
prevailed for the last several years. Previously, local
leftist politicians were openly hostile to Souda Bay NSA and
had little interest in visits by USN ships, despite the
substantial financial benefits local communities reap from
port calls. The tenor of the Ambassador,s meetings with the
new local leadership, in contrast, augured well for
cooperation and good relations. Indeed, the new atmosphere
was evident from the start of the day, when the governor and
two mayors attended the retirement ceremony -- the first time
in memory that local Cretan politicians had attended an
official function at Souda Bay NSA.

GOVERNOR PLEADS FOR SHIP VISITS
-------------------------------

4. (SBU) Chania Governor Archondakis, owner of a small local
pharmacy chain, as well as a resort hotel that caters to
handicapped customers, told Ambassador a "radical change" had
taken place in local politics. One of his top priorities was
to strengthen ties between the Chania community and the U.S.
Naval base. That would not only bring economic benefits but
would also demonstrate the changed political atmosphere.
Ambassador underscored the desire of Souda Bay NSA and the
Embassy to increase the number of port calls by USN ships,
explaining that fewer ships had visited recently because of
the increased tempo of USN operations in the Persian Gulf and
elsewhere. These operations left little time for shore leave
and goodwill visits, though Ambassador expected that
situation to change in the near future.

5. (SBU) Ambassador also noted the impact of the black-dye
fuel issue. (NOTE: GoG regulations require tax-exempt fuel
sold on local markets to international buyers to contain
black dye as a safeguard against re-sale, but USN rules
require purchasing only "clear and bright" fuel. Many USN
ships, thus, have taken their business to other countries.
END NOTE.) Another important issue was the construction of a
new fuel pipeline from the Marathi piers to the Souda Bay air
station. The governor understood both issues well and
promised to do what he could to get them solved. He had
already spoken to the mayor of Akrotiri, where the dig
permits for the pipeline must be issued, and believed he was
favorably disposed.

OLD HAND IN CHANIA
------------------

6. (SBU) Mayor of Chania Virvidakis -- a physician and a
cousin of FM Dora Bakoyannis -- already demonstrated goodwill
toward Souda Bay NSA during his first term but was equally
focused on getting more ships, both military and tourist, to
visit. The mayor had two projects in the works to make
Chania more attractive: an infrastructure renewal focused on

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repairing roads and planting more trees, and a cultural
renewal focused on repairing monuments and building museums
and other cultural attractions. In response to the mayor,s
plans to establish a Mediterranean architectural center, the
Ambassador offered to invite his brother-in-law, a professor
of architecture at the University of Hawaii specializing in
energy efficient designs, to address one of the center,s
conferences. With the mayor, Ambassador also noted the
negative impact of the fuel-dye issue on USN ship visits.

A GREENHORN, BUT SAVVY
----------------------

7. (SBU) Akrotiri mayor Kynigos noted a somewhat
anti-American climate in Crete but argued that it was no
worse than elsewhere in Greece. He also argued that it was
directed not at Americans, but at American foreign policy.
He added, however, that his job was not foreign policy but
the well-being of Akrotiri. He said he had already met
Captains Sale and McDonough and looked forward to good
relations. He lobbied for locals getting more jobs at Souda
Bay NSA, which would help improve their attitude towards the
base, and suggested the base make an effort to buy more local
agricultural products for provisioning ships.

8. (SBU) Ambassador thanked the mayor for attending the
retirement ceremony, noted the desire of the Embassy and
Souda Bay NSA to increase the base,s economic benefits to
the community -- particularly through more ship visits -- and
asked the mayor for his help with approval of the fuel
pipeline, which was not only necessary but also a gesture of
good will. The mayor responded that he had been in office
only two months and such things took time. Nevertheless, the
mayor said he would do what he could to help.

COMMENT
-------

9. (SBU) Embassy Athens is sorry to see Captain Sale retire.
Steve has done an excellent job in reaching out to the local
communities on Crete, in addition to managing Souda Bay NSA
very well. He is a first-rate diplomat. We look forward to
working with his successor, Captain McDonough, who intends to
continue Captain Sale,s outreach efforts. Embassy will do
everything it can to support him and Team Souda.
RIES

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