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Cablegate: Greece/Turkey - Next Steps On Nato Aegean Exercises

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OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTH #0966/01 1891331
ZNY CCCCC ZZH (CCY ADB20AED VSF0237 538)
O 071331Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2116
INFO RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0971
RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMNAVREG EUR NAPLES IT PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0349
RHMFISS/COMSIXTHFLT PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/NAVSUPPACT SOUDA BAY GR PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L ATHENS 000966

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (TEXT)

SIPDIS

DEPT ALSO FOR EUR/RPM AND EUR/SE
USNATO ALSO FOR MILDEL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/22/2018
TAGS: MOPS NATO MARR PREL PGOV TU GR
SUBJECT: GREECE/TURKEY - NEXT STEPS ON NATO AEGEAN EXERCISES

REF: A. ATHENS 678
B. ATHENS 721

Classified By: Ambassador Daniel V. Speckhard for 1.4 (b) and (d)

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (C) In the aftermath of NATO's May 2008 decision not to
support a Greek exercise that would overfly the island of
Agios Efstratios (AE)(ref A), the Greeks are considering
developing a new exercise that would again seek to overfly
the island. Various Greek contacts have told us that they
believe the United States recommendation to the NATO SG
not/not to support the May exercise, due to Turkish threats
to intercept Greek aircraft flying under NATO command and
control, was the decisive factor in withdrawal of NATO air
support. We have told our Greek interlocutors that our
understanding of what transpired is quite different, and that
the authority to provide support or deny support for an
exercise rests solely with NATO authorities. Visiting CC-AIR
Commander Lt Gen Lee McFann, Commander, NATO Air Component,
Izmir (U.S.) emphatically told Greek civilian and military
interlocutors that this issue is a "political problem" and
that Greek officials must take the matter up with NATO
political authorities. We are telling the Greeks that before
proposing a new exercise they need to ensure that NATO SYG de
Hoop Scheffer has issued clear, written assurances that he
will allow the exercise to proceed. We are also advising the
Greeks not to force the issue by rescheduling the exercise
absent such assurances from de Hoop Scheffer, otherwise they
are headed for a repeat performance. The Greeks are
attempting to make this a U.S. problem; we shouldn't let them
do so. End Summary.

---------------------------------
Agios Efstratios - Recent History
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) Although the Turks and Greeks have long disagreed
about the status of certain islands in the Aegean (ref A) the
question of the status of the island of Agios Efstratios (AE)
was first raised in the year 2000 when Turkey raised
questions related to AE's status in the course of planning
for a NATO exercise, "Destined Glory 2000." Prior to that
date, we are aware of no suggestions that it was anything
other than Greek sovereign territory with the same status as
the rest of Greek territory, i.e. with no demilitarized
status. We are aware that Turkey argues that AE can be tied
to treaties pre-dating the Lausanne Convention that would
suggest it may be demilitarized.

3. (C) In 2007, Greece sought NATO support for a training
exercise "Noble Archer," that included the Limnos Terminal
Military Area (TMA) as well as AE. (Limnos, unlike Agios
Efstratios, is specifically mentioned in the treaties whose
interpretation is disputed by our two Allies). After review,
NATO did not support the exercise, as Limnos has long been
the subject of a Greek/Turkish dispute (Greece claims that
the Montreux Convention amended Lausanne provisions allowing
Greece to "remilitarize" Limnos and Turkey has long
challenged this claim), and NATO policy has long been to
avoid exercises related to Limnos. Following cancellation of
the exercise, the Greeks expressed concern that its
cancellation could be construd also to support the more
recent Turkish claims related to AE. This led the United
States to do two things:

-- Then-U/S Nick Burns made a public statement standing next
to Greek FM Bakoyannis that the United States considered AE
to be Greek territory, that the U.S. has the impression it is
not demilitarized, and that this is an issue for NATO to
review to see if it can reach an arrangement to allow such
military exercises to proceed (ref A).

-- Privately, U.S. officials in Washington and Athens pressed
the Greeks to raise Greek concerns with NATO officials --
civilian and military.

4. (C) Greece then took our advice and consulted with NATO
authorities. On the military side, the Greek Commander of
CAOC 7 and other Greek military representatives were in
frequent touch with NATO officials at CC-AIR Izmir (including
a number of U.S. military officers) and SACEUR to lay out
their intentions to develop an exercise that excluded Limnos
and included Agios Efstratios. In the course of these
consultations, the Greeks believe they received assurances
that such an exercise -- if it followed all of the detailed
NATO requirements for Aegean exercises -- would be approved.
On the civilian side, we understand that the Greek Ambassador
to NATO met with various officials in Brussels, including
Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer in December 2007, to make
the same points. The Greeks also believe that de Hoop
Schaeffer expressed willingness to allow an exercise that
overflew AE to go forward provided it did not touch on
disputed areas and met all of the other criteria for Aegean
exercise support. The Greeks believe they planned an
exercise that met this criteria. However, at no time in this
process was any official NATO guidance issued on the subject.


-----------------------------
Greek Suspicions of U.S. Role
-----------------------------

5. (C) When NATO authorities informed the Greeks that they
would not support "Noble Archer" this year the Greeks were
deeply frustrated (refs). Various contacts in the Greek MFA,
MOD and Prime Minister's office have told us that they
understand NATO Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer took this
decision only after consulting with the United States and
that the United States had recommended not/not approving the
exercise due to Turkish threats to intercept the Greek
aircraft flying under NATO AWACS command and control.
Various contacts -- including the Chief of the Hellenic Air
Force, the Director of the MFA NATO Office, the Diplomatic
advisor to the Minister of Defense, and the Deputy Diplomatic
Advisor to the Prime Minster -- have told us that they
believe the United States stopped this exercise. They cite
as sources the Secretary General's office and the other
Missions to NATO consulted by the SYG.

6. (C) We have responded that we have a very different
understanding of these events. Either SACEUR or the
Secretary General of NATO could have approved this exercise
without any consultations with the United States. However,
the Secretary General chose not to exercise his inherent
authority, and to solicit our advice, presumably because he
had doubts about the wisdom of proceeding. We are telling
the Greeks that if Greece is unhappy with the outcome of this
process, it needs to take up its concerns with the NATO
Secretary General and with SACEUR, and not/not with the
United States. We will continue to make this point, but we
have thus far been unable to alter the Greek conclusion that
the U.S., as a disproportionately strong force within NATO,
is the ultimate obstacle to proceeding.

7. (C) During a June 30 to July 2 visit to Athens NATO
CC-AIR Commander Lt Gen McFann (U.S.) was direct with Greek
interlocutors that this is a "political problem" and that
Greece needs to address it by consulting with NATO political
authorities. He also recommended that Greece seek written
guidance from NATO political authorities before pressing any
further for NATO support for any activity overflying AE (or
any other Aegean area under dispute).

8. (C) During LTG McFann,s July 1 meeting with Constantinos
Bitsios, Deputy Diplomatic Adviser to the PM, the DCM
strongly emphasized to Bitsios:

-- The participation (or not) of a NATO AWACS during the 90
second overflight of A.E. by Greek fighters would have zero
significance for the military preparedness of either Greece
or NATO.

-- Despite the popular perception in both Athens and Ankara,
no one else believes that NATO is the referee in these
arguments.

-- Any action NATO takes, or does not take, on these
exercises will have zero real impact on the eventual
resolution of Aegean issues.

DCM urged Greece not to set itself up for another
disappointment by rescheduling the exercise since, as we have
just seen, the best-laid plans can have unpredictable
results. Nor should Athens focus on the .S. as the source
of its problems, as Athens nd Washington already have enough
difficult issues to deal with in the real world. Bitsios was
utterly unconvinced, and remained focused on: Greece,s
"right" to conduct such an exercise; a domino theory of
constantly expanding "o-go" zones imposed by Turkey; and his
beliefthat the U.S. has the dominant voice in decisions
taken by the NATO SG.

---------------------------------------------
Greek Concerns about an Elastic "No Fly" Area
---------------------------------------------

9. (C) We have heard Bitsios' concerns from virtually all
interlocutors at the MOD, the General Staff, and the MFA.
The Greeks assert that the Turks are seeking to extend their
concept of a "grey zone" where NATO does not exercise in an
effort to build support for Turkish claims in the Aegean.
The standard Greek talking point is if the Turks can simply
claim AE as a "disputed area," why can't they claim Athens or
Thessaloniki? The Greek refrain is that the practical effort
of NATO "neutrality" in such situations is to favor Turkish
claims in the Aegean. We push back, noting that NATO is not
an arbitrator in the zero-sum Aegean game, and that whether
NATO exercises or not above a given island will have no
practical effect on any eventual solution of Aegean issues,
but that we also agree that specious claims - when they are
truly specious - should not be countenanced.

--------------------------------------------
Next Steps - Embassy Athens' Recommendations
--------------------------------------------

10. (C) The Greeks have intimated that they want to try
again to develop an exercise that would overfly AE (and the
Greek press have reported that NATO SG de Hoop Scheffer gave
positive signals in this regard on the margins of the recent
Defense Ministerial). We intend to give them the same advice
that we gave last year with an addition: like last year, we
are telling the Greeks to proceed carefully in developing any
such exercise, and to consult closely with NATO military and
civilian officials every step of the way. However, we are
also telling the Greeks that before they even start the
process, they need to ensure that NATO SYG de Hoop Scheffer
has issued clear, written assurances that he will allow the
exercise to proceed. Absent such assurances from de Hoop
Scheffer, we are advising the Greeks not to force the issue,
as the only possible outcome will be another failed exercise
and further frustrations.

11. (C) The Greeks are already countering that de Hoop
Scheffer will not provide the necessary assurances absent
signals from the U.S. that it supports such an exercise.
They are likely to press in Washington, Brussels, and here in
Athens for the U.S. to tell de Hoop Scheffer to let such an
exercise go forward. We recommend that our response be
simply to refer to Greeks back to the Secretary General as
this is not/not a U.S. issue. The NATO Secretary General has
the authority to provide guidance to NATO military
authorities, and we should not prejudge the advice we will
provide to him at any given time. The Greeks are trying to
make this a U.S. problem; we shouldn't let them -- as this
issue should remain firmly in NATO's corridors.
SPECKHARD

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