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Cablegate: Ambassador's Trip to Rhodes During Uss Truman

VZCZCXRO5154
OO RUEHIK
DE RUEHTH #0665/01 1360650
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 150650Z MAY 08 ZDK CTG RUEHJCB 6961 1361129
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1800
INFO RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 5154
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 1010
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 1460
RUEHSQ/AMEMBASSY SKOPJE PRIORITY 1179
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 2020
RUEHIK/AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI PRIORITY 1877
RHMFIUU/CNO WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/NAVEURLOGCOORD CENTER NAPLES IT PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 ATHENS 000665

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR EUR/SE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL TU GR PARM NATO
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S TRIP TO RHODES DURING USS TRUMAN
VISIT FORGES FRIENDSHIPS

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SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED -- PROTECT ACCORDINGLY

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SUMMARY
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1. (U) Ambassador Speckhard visited Rhodes May 7-9 in
conjunction with the visit of the USS Truman, a U.S. Navy
nuclear-powered aircraft carrier transiting the Mediterranean
on its return to Norfolk from nearly seven months in the
Persian Gulf. The visit afforded the Ambassador the
opportunity to meet with the island's local officials and
forge lasting relationships. The event was well-received in
the media with extensive and positive national and local
coverage. Moreover, the ship's 5000-strong crew were warmly
welcomed by the inhabitants of Rhodes who were thrilled to
benefit from the ship's cash injection to the economy at the
outset of the tourist season. In addition to participating
in courtesy calls with the ship's Rear Admiral and Captain,
the Ambassador and the Rear Admiral co-hosted a ship-board
reception with dignitaries and a large reception with a
variety of local and national figures. Other meetings were
with New Democracy Member of Parliament, Aritotelis Pavlidis,
the Bishop of Rhodes, and a joint dinner with the Mayor, the
Nomarch, and the Chairman of the City Council. He also
attended a ship-sponsored community outreach program where
crew volunteered to clean the island's historic Rodini Park
as well as a May 9 wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the
Unknown Soldier. These events are detailed on the Embassy
website: http//:athens.usembassy.gov.

-------------------------------------
COURTESY CALLS: MESSAGE OF FRIENDSHIP
-------------------------------------

2. (U) Ambassador Speckhard, Rear Admiral Mark Fox, and
Captain Herm Shelanski met with the Nomarch of Dodecanese,
Mr. Ioannis Mahairidis; the Mayor of Rhodes, Chatzis
Chatziefthimiou; Bishop Kyrillos of Rhodes; Chief of Police
COL Ioannis Mesodiakakis; and local Coast Guard and National
Guard officials. The Ambassador, Rear Admiral, and Captain
consistently reiterated the message of our two countries'
long and enduring friendship that is based on mutual respect,
underscoring the importance of our bilateral relations and
relaying sentiments of gratitude and honor to have the
opportunity to be so warmly received in such a beautiful
locale.

3. (SBU) With the Mayor and Normarch, Ambassador Speckhard
highlighted the economic incentives associated with the visit
of the 5000 American crew. The Admiral and Captain added
that Rhodes was the sailors' first choice for a port call,
and they were prepared to come ashore and comport themselves
as goodwill ambassadors. With tourism on the island
experiencing a slight downturn in part due to a declining
dollar, both officials were pleased to continue the tradition
of hosting U.S. military vessels that started in the 1960s.
During meetings with the police, harbor master, and the
National Guard Battalion, all extended sincere appreciation
for the close cooperation and tireless efforts the local
authorities expended to deliver the highest-level security
standards required during U.S. military vessel visits. The
Bishop, who wields significant influence throughout the
island, noted that the ship visits are valuable. He hoped
the crew would learn about the Dodecanese islands and forge
lasting relationships with Greeks.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
SHIP RECEPTION: ATTENDANCE GOOD FOR POST-EASTER WEEKEND
--------------------------------------------- ----------

4. (U) Despite the fact that the USS Truman arrived in
Rhodes just after Orthodox Easter, turnout for the ship's
evening reception was relatively high. In addition to VIP
guests at the reception including New Democracy Member of
Parliament (MP) Aritotelis Pavlidis and PASOK MP Nikos
Zoides, Deputy Minister of the Merchant Marines Panos
Kammenos, the Nomarch, the Mayor, and the Commander of the
Naval Aegean Command, the ship's hanger deck was also filled
with influential members of the Greek Orthodox Church, Greek
military, business, and shipping communities for the main
reception. Speeches echoed a theme of friendship and

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respect. Selected members of the Greek press corps were
escorted by Embassy IO, having toured the ship and held a
press conference with the Ambassador, Admiral and the Captain
earlier.

---------------------------------------------
DINNER WITH MP PAVLIDIS: FRANCE-GREECE-RUSSIA
---------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Ambassador and his wife joined Pavlidis, the
British Consul, and others for dinner where the Ambassador
steered conversation toward Greek-Russian and Greek-French
relations. Regarding the former, Pavlidis said his country
is creating a "three-legged stool" balancing act between
Russian and U.S. interests in Greece, saying that Greece has
an important role to play in the region throughenergy. On
Greece and France, Pavlidis informlly confirmed a June
Sarkozy visit to Athens. (Note: Sarkozy is now reportedly set
to visit Athens on June 6. End note.), He also alluded to the
fact that Sarkozy may join the ranks of a handful of world
leaders (Eisenhower, DeGaulle, George H.W. Bush) to be
permitted to address the Greek Parliament. When asked why
Sarkozy would receive this honor, the MP struggled with a
response that included the important role France plays in
business circles in Greece and Sarkozy's support for Greece's
veto of Macedonia's entrance into NATO at the April summit in
Bucharest. The topic of Greece's role in the Middle East was
briefly addressed, with Pavlidis explaining that Greece is
uniquely placed to serve a key role in Middle East peace
negotiations given its proximity to the region, its trusted
position as a neutral party, and a keen understanding of the
issues. He noted that Greece will sponsor a group of Eastern
Mediterranean MPs June 11-12 to discuss the Middle East.

--------------------------------------------- --
BISHOP KYRILLOS: ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH AND HALKI
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (SBU) Bishop Kyrillos of Rhodes is a significant
community religious leader who wields considerable influence
throughout the island. The Bishop explained that his
position has an administrative emphasis as well as social
responsibilities, with duties that include large-scale
building renovations, public relations obligations, and
servicing the needs of communities that include the elderly,
orphans, the poor, addressing problems Rhodes and the
Dodecanese have from illegal immigrant children that come
over from Turkey, and other needy members of society. He is
pleased with the direction taken by the new Archbishop of
Athens and all Greece, Ieronymos, and feels his approach to
concentrate on spiritual activities and less on politics will
be less divisive. He also explained that the Church of the
Dodecanese falls under the supervision of the Ecumenical
Patriarch's Synod in Istanbul and not the Archbishop of
Athens.

7. (SBU) Bishop Kyrillos characterized Greece as a
traditionally religious society with the largest active
congregation in Europe and no visible influences to distract
them from their spiritual commitment at this time. While
there is a surplus of priests in Crete, Northern Greece is
experiencing a dearth of clergy, a situation which is
exacerbated by the fact that Greece must supply priests to
its international congregations as well (such as Australia,
Jerusalem, and Egypt). According to Kyrillos, only the U.S.
produces Greek-American priests internally and does not
depend upon Greece. The Bishop described the seat of the
Ecumenical Patriarch, however, as a more pressing problem.
Given that Turkey only permits clergy of Turkish origin to
serve in Istanbul, with a declining number of Greeks of
Turkish origin residing in Istanbul, it becomes increasingly
difficult to replace the Ecumenical Patriarch. Moreover,
there is no religious school in Turkey to educate its members
because of the ongoing difficulties surrounding the Halki
Seminary. The Bishop highlighted this ongoing political
issue as one of his Church's major concerns. He added that
the Turks would benefit from the opening of Halki from an
economic standpoint. A functioning Seminary would produce
more priests, and more priests would contribute to a more
robust Patriarchate which in turn would boost Greek tourism
to Turkey, according to the Bishop.


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8. (U) On a more positive note, the Bishop added that
locally, his Church is working on a project to build 200
rooms in the form of small houses to accommodate people in
need, regardless of creed. Noting the island's economic and
social disparities, Bishop Kyrillos also explained that
single mothers, battered wives, and women left destitute
behind on the island constitute the majority of needy in
Rhodes. The new houses would go far to assist this strata of
Rhodes society, to be added to the Church's role in
maintaining an island orphanage for abandoned children.

--------------------------------------------- -----
LOCAL OFFICIALS: PARTNERSHIPS, ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
--------------------------------------------- -----

9. (U) The festive dinner on the evening following the USS
Truman reception was a great success, with officials breaking
into serenades at the meal's completion. Relationships
between the Ambassador and the local officials were
solidified, with much talk regarding the beauty of the
island, the gracious and hospitable inhabitants, the vast
history and culture, and return visits. Greek officials
reiterated the pleasure of hosting the U.S. military and the
great benefits the visits bring to the island.

10. (U) The Mayor expressed his desire to expand further a
U.S.-Greek connection on Rhodes by instituting t to
Qfort that might be
of interest to American students. The Aegean University on
Rhodes and the Municipality of Rhodes are hosting the first
annual meeting to discuss projects for cooperation between
the university and municipality on May 16, and the topic of
international university partnerships will be a major focus.
According to the Mayor, the Minister of Culture is scheduled
to attend, in addition to U.S. and UK academics.

11. (SBU) The Nomarch broached the subjects of the Macedonia
name issue and illegal immigration throughout the Dodecanese
islands. He reiterated well-known Greek positions regarding
Macedonia and elucidated on the mounting numbers of illegal
child migrants of various nationalities reaching the islands
through transiting Turkey. According to the Nomarch, these
children are often dispersed to special camps throughout the
Dodecanese and then sent to Athens upon adulthood, where they
are united with their ethnic groups residing in Athens. To
further complicate matters, the Nomarch said that child
smugglers manning the boats that transport children to the
Dodecanese from Turkey are often juveniles themselves (aged
between fifteen and eighteen), which means they cannot stand
trial and complicates deportation efforts.

-------------------------------------
PRESS: WIDE-SPREAD, POSITIVE COVERAGE
-------------------------------------

12. (U) The USS Truman visit to Rhodes and the Ambassador's
presence on the island were well-received in the media, with
extensive, positive local coverage as well as national
exposure. Press was on hand throughout the initial courtesy
calls between U.S. officials and local authorities in order
to record the interviews and film gift exchanges, with
widespread, positive local coverage. The reception press
conference held in the ship's Flag Bridge was cordial.
Hellenic Public TV (ET) filmed a live morning report from the
flight deck of the USS Truman on May 8, and had live
Saturday, May 9, talk show coverage by national ALPHA TV.
Press and media coverage was provided at the ship's community
outreach program whereby volunteer crew cleaned up the
historic Rodini Park in an effort for the ship to "give back
to the community" and also at the WWII wreath laying
presentation that the Ambassador attended on May 9 to
commemorate the end of WWII in Rhodes. Like the Rhodes
inhabitants themselves, press and media appeared pleased to
welcome the ship and its crew to the island and to have the
opportunity to meet and speak with the Ambassador and
military. See also http://athens.usembassy.gov for a

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description and photo gallery.


-------
COMMENT
-------

13. (SBU) Ambassador Speckhard's trip to Rhodes during the
visit of the USS Truman aircraft carrier was a resounding
success. Not only did the visit receive extensive, positive
media coverage, the Ambassador was able to forge lasting
friendships with local officials that will surely prove
useful throughout the duration of his Ambassadorship in
Greece. The message of friendship and mutual respect
resonated well with his interlocutors, and the local
officials were left with the impression that Rhodes is a
prime destination for U.S. military vessels.
COUNTRYMAN

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