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Cablegate: Mod Venizelos: Positive Signs, but Some Tough Issues

VZCZCXRO0868
OO RUEHAG RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHTH #1605/01 3091729
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O R 051729Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY ATHENS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0973
INFO EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0017
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 ATHENS 001605

SIPDIS
AMEMBASSY ANKARA PASS TO AMCONSUL ADANA
AMEMBASSY ASTANA PASS TO USOFFICE ALMATY
AMEMBASSY BERLIN PASS TO AMCONSUL DUSSELDORF
AMEMBASSY BERLIN PASS TO AMCONSUL LEIPZIG
AMEMBASSY BELGRADE PASS TO AMEMBASSY PODGORICA
AMEMBASSY HELSINKI PASS TO AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG
AMEMBASSY ATHENS PASS TO AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PASS TO AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK
AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PASS TO AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/11/05
TAGS: PREL PGOV MARR MASS GR AF TU
SUBJECT: MOD VENIZELOS: POSITIVE SIGNS, BUT SOME TOUGH ISSUES

REF: ATHENS 1563

ATHENS 00001605 001.2 OF 004


CLASSIFIED BY: Daniel V. Speckhard, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: New Minister of Defense Evangelos Venizelos
expressed his commitment to a strong bilateral defense relationship
in the Ambassador's first one-on-one meeting with him November 4.
Well-briefed on Afghanistan, he said Greece would keep its medical
teams (there for the elections support mission) in-country, would
participate with funding for NATO's helicopter initiative, and
would contribute 3-4 million euros to the ANA Trust Fund, but that
Greece was now leaning toward keeping its engineering battalion in
Kabul vice moving it to Herat as had been pledged. Venizelos is
closely watching internal USG deliberations on Afghanistan for
signals. On Turkey, he stated the government seeks to promote a
new climate, but that it was not easy; he reiterated that Greece
has problems with NATO plans to rotate a Greek then a Turk annually
as commander of a NATO air center in Larisa. He was opaque on
plans to reform Greek procurement, in contrast to his bold
statements before Parliament on October 18. The Ambassador urged
Venizelos to follow through on Greek commitments to move its Kabul
forces to RC-West; welcomed the other positive steps toward ISAF;
pressed him to be proactive and not reactive in reaching out to
Turkey in the Aegean; commended him on his intentions to bring more transparency to Greek defense procurement; asked Venizelos to work personally to break the impasse that would enable the U.S. to begin construction of an important infrastructure project at Naval
Support Activity Souda Bay; and encouraged him to remove remaining obstacles to freeing up a Navy site for a mosque in Athens. END SUMMARY

2. (C) In a warm and positive initial meeting with the Ambassador,
MOD Venizelos stressed his commitment to fostering a strong
relationship with the United States. He expressed his appreciation
for meeting Secretary Gates at the NATO Ministerial in Bratislava
in late October, commending his professionalism and record as
SecDef. He noted his recent meeting with ASD Vershbow at the
recent Southeastern Europe Defense Ministers meeting in Sofia, and
predicted good working relationships with both. Venizelos stated
that he intended to demonstrate firm civilian control over the
Greek military, and was ready to make decisions on tough issues.

--------------------------------------------- ---
Afghanistan: Some Good, Some Bad
--------------------------------------------- ---

3. (C) Ambassador Speckhard noted U.S. hopes that Greece deploy
its pledged OMLT and move its engineering battalion from Kabul to
Herat in western Afghanistan as quickly as possible, and asked
Venizelos for the status, given recent worrying signs that Greece
lacked the proper equipment to enable its troops to fulfill this
commitment. Venizelos stated that the presence of Afghan refugees
in Greece constituted indirect but "substantial" support for ISAF.
The Ambassador focused him on the fact that increased Greek support to the mission in Afghanistan and success there would directly affect refugee flows that have caused so many social problems in Greece. Venizelos agreed, but noted that the government has a hard time selling that point to the Greek public, which sees only Turkey to blame for allowing the transit of illegal immigrants and
refugees through to Greece. He stated that he and the Greek
government are closely watching the ongoing U.S. debate on
Afghanistan, and are also concerned about the legitimacy of the
Karzai government and its possible impact on the future political
situation there. The Ambassador cautioned him not to read too much
from the tea leaves found in the media. Our engagement in
Afghanistan is solid; our debate is about the size, composition,
and direction of our effort, not about whether or when to get out.

ATHENS 00001605 002.2 OF 004


4. (C) Venizelos proceeded to tick off positive Greek
contributions to ISAF, which could be done within the existing MOD
budget. Greece is ready to take over security at Kabul airport
during the second half of 2010. Greece will keep the two medical
teams that it had deployed for elections support earlier this
autumn in Afghanistan. Greece will make a contribution to the
Anglo-French NATO helicopter initiative aimed at addressing NATO's
crucial helicopter shortfall in Afghanistan. The Greek monetary
contributions to Hungary's PRT in Baglan will continue, and Greece
intends to donate 3-4 million euros to the Afghan National Army
Trust Fund.

5. (C) On the negative side, Venizelos indicated that budgetary
pressures have placed Greek plans to deploy an OMLT and to move its engineering battalion from Kabul to Herat in jeopardy. Given force
protection requirements recently identified by Greek planners,
namely MRAP-type vehicles, anti-IED countermeasures, and armored
road maintenance equipment, Greece needed $65 million it simply did not have in order to equip and maintain the Kabul-to-Herat
redeployment. He also said that he was not sure if COMISAF still
wanted the Greek engineers to go to Herat. The Ambassador urged
Venizelos to follow through on this long-standing Greek commitment,
and made the case that investing in the equipment necessary to
accomplish this deployment would also pay dividends in increasing
the future capability and deployability of the Greek armed forces
beyond Afghanistan. Venizelos demurred, noting he had not received
the full brief on the technical requirements of the proposed
MRAP-type vehicles, and that in any case, Greek efforts would need
to be coordinated with other European countries.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- ----------------------
Turkey: Support Old CBMs, but Still Want to Go Back on CAOC Deal
--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- ----------------------

6. (C) Ambassador Speckhard asked Venizelos to comment on what he
perceived were the threats to Greece, and how the MOD intended to
balance severe budgetary constraints with the need to face those
threats through means including procurement. Looking at Turkey,
Venizelos confirmed that the Papandreou government is seeking to
promote a new climate, although it was "not easy," he said,
pointing to the dramatic increase in Turkish overflights of Greek
Aegean islands over the summer compared to past years. The
Ambassador urged him to be proactive in suggesting confidence
building measures to his Turkish counterparts, to allow his
generals to talk freely with their interlocutors, and to stop
labeling unannounced Turkish military flights in the Athens FIR as
"hostile," a small, technical move that could go over well in
Ankara.

7. (C) Venizelos commented favorably on CBMs in general, but noted
the problem was implementation. He supported reinstituting past
measures such as the suspension of overflights during the summer,
and on religious holidays. In response to the Ambassador's
suggestion to stop labeling Turkish flights as hostile, he stated
he would only do that in connection with resolution of the "CAOC
problem," and asked for U.S. help. (Comment: In May 2009, NATO
Allies - including Greece - agreed on a plan to close one of NATOs

ATHENS 00001605 003.2 OF 004

Combined Air Operations Centers, located in Eskisehir, Turkey, and
to implement an annual rotational command of NATO's CAOC in
Larissa, Greece between a Greek and a Turkish general, with
alternating deputies, as well, from the nation not presently in
command. The U.S. will maintain command of NATO's Component
Command Air HQ (CC Air) in Izmir, Turkey, while the CC Air deputy
will rotate between a Greek and a Turk, and the Chief of Staff will
rotate between a Turk and an Italian. In Greek eyes, this leads to
a periodic, temporary imbalance of "flags," when no Greek will be
in a top position at CC Air. End comment.) The Ambassador noted
he would pass the message back, but that it was his understanding
that Greece had already agreed to the future manning structure of
the CAOC in the NATO framework.

----------------
Procurement
----------------

8. (C) Despite Venizelos' bold comments before Parliament on
October 18, to include a call for abolishing offsets contracts when
buying foreign (to include U.S.) military equipment, he had no
proposals to offer, though he expressed a commitment to
transparency, and to establishing firm Parliamentary oversight over
procurement processes. He told the Ambassador that the offsets
issue needed to be "fixed," and that he intended to come up with a
plan over the coming month. Venizelos stated that the F-16
purchase program was going well, but complained about a problem
with the defensive systems on the Peace Xenia III F-16s, and stated
that U.S. companies need to take more responsibility. (Comment:
The ASPIS II defensive systems suite was programmed through direct
commercial sale to go on the 60 Peace Xenia III aircraft. Due to
stalled negotiations between the Greek MOD and Raytheon, none of
the 60 PX-III aircraft have defensive systems installed. End
comment.)

9. (C) Ambassador Speckhard commended Venizelos for his commitment
to transparency, and his plans to increase Parliamentary oversight.
He expressed confidence in the ability of U.S. firms to compete in
a transparent environment, noting that such a situation would be
good both for Greece and the U.S. While empathetic to Venizelos'
desire to change an offsets system in their defense procurement
that had not resulted in the desired outcomes, he encouraged him
not to unfairly penalize U.S. companies who had been unable to
deliver on contractual terms due to GoG policies and practices.

-----------------------------------
Souda Bay Jet Fuel Pipeline
-----------------------------------

10. (C) Ambassador Speckhard asked Venizelos to cut through the
red tape and to provide the U.S. with written authorization to
proceed with the construction of a JP-5 jet fuel pipeline and fuel
storage tanks that would maintain high-capacity refueling
capabilities and protect the environment at and around our Naval
Support Activity at Souda Bay, Crete. (Comment: permission to
execute the project has been stuck in the Greek bureaucracy for
nearly seven years, and the MOD at present is not certain whether
or not it needs approval from cautious MFA lawyers to grant this
authorization.) Venizelos assured the Ambassador he was "ready to

ATHENS 00001605 004.2 OF 004

solve" this problem.

--------------------
Athens Mosque
--------------------

11. (C) At the close of the meeting, the Ambassador pointed out to
Venizelos our understanding that the construction of a mosque in
Athens (a city that has no official mosque), which was approved by
the Greek Parliament in 2000, is held up in part by the refusal of
the Hellenic Navy to vacate the designated land, and asked him for
his views. Venizelos, pointing to his background as a professor of
constitutional law and proclaiming human rights to be a passionate
interest, stated that he was unaware of the issue, but assured the
Ambassador he would look into it and he was ready to contribute if
that was a way his Ministry could help.
Speckhard

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