Cablegate: Scenesetter for Asd Vershbow's Visit to Greece

DE RUEHTH #1623/01 3161708
O 121708Z NOV 09

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 06 ATHENS 001623


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/11/12

ATHENS 00001623 001.2 OF 006

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

1. (C) Welcome to Greece. Your visit is an important one and
reinforces efforts by recent high-level USG visitors (SACEUR ADM
Stavridis, COMNAVEUR ADM Fitzgerald, PM A/S Shapiro, and CNO ADM
Roughead) to demonstrate to the Greeks that we are serious about
our Alliance and about working with them on global challenges.
Since his election October 4, PM (and FM) George Papandreou has
focused his energies abroad, hoping for quick progress on tough
challenges like the Aegean, Cyprus, and the Macedonia name issue.
Yet Greece's dire economic situation will soon catch up to him, and
limit his hand. U.S.-Greek military-to-military cooperation is
good, particularly at the U.S. Naval Support Activity at Souda Bay
on Crete, which plays a key role in supporting U.S. military
operations in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, including
Iraq and Afghanistan. Greece is also among the largest purchasers
of U.S. military equipment. At the same time, Greece's
participation in NATO is politically sensitive, and it has provided
only limited contributions to key theatres such as Afghanistan.
While Greeks have affection for Americans in general owing to
immigration links and the Marshall Plan, significant percentages
have felt at deep odds with U.S. foreign policy. However,
President Obama's election has created a new opening to improve and
permanently alter Greek views of the U.S.

2. (C) Your participation in the High Level Consultative Committee
(HLCC) and your bilateral meetings with MOD Venizelos and MFA
officials can help move Greek positions on a range of important
issues. I recommend that you encourage your interlocutors to:

-- live up to the commitment the previous government made to
President Obama to enhance their Afghanistan contributions;

-- work vigorously to find a solution to the Macedonia name issue
that would allow Macedonia to join NATO and the EU and strengthen
stability in Greece's neighborhood.

-- continue to support Turkey's EU orientation;

-- seek to foster goodwill in the Aegean, despite passionately held
views and frustrations;

-- keep an open mind and support us as we move forward on our
Phased Adaptive Approach to European ballistic missile defense; and

-- continue their efforts and look for ways to expand cooperation
on counter-piracy and non-proliferation.


Political Overview


3. (C) Since his election October 4, PM (and FM) George Papandreou
has focused his energies abroad to a large extent, hoping for quick
progress on tough challenges like the Aegean, Cyprus, and the
Macedonia name issue. Yet Greece's dire economic situation will
force him to spend more time on domestic issues in the
not-too-distant future. The EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner
recently noted that Greece's budget deficit this year is set to be
12.7 percent of GDP (with an EU limit being 3 percent), criticized
Greek economic data submitted to the Commission as "completely
wrong," and stated that the challenges facing Greece are "high" and
"a question of common concern for the whole euro area." Greece

ATHENS 00001623 002.2 OF 006

will eventually have to pay the Euro-zone piper, and Papandreou
will have to make some extremely difficult - and politically
unpopular - economic decisions at home to avoid EU sanctions and
penalties. The budgetary restraints have already been reflected in
the draft FY2010 defense budget, which contains some 500 million
euros worth of cuts.

4. (C) New PM (and Foreign Minister) Papandreou has an American
mother, has lived and studied in the U.S., and having been Foreign
Minister under a previous PASOK administration, developed a good
reputation in the international community as a thoughtful and
constructive interlocutor. While he must use careful rhetoric
domestically to avoid the "Amerikanaki" (little American) label by
detractors, our recent engagements with him have been positive.




5. (C) MOD Venizelos is feeling the heat both domestically and
within NATO, and we should keep the pressure on. The prior
government committed to President Obama to expand Greece's ISAF
effort, by deploying its previously caveat-bound Kabul engineering
battalion out to RC-West, standing up a 17-person OMLT in Jan/Feb
2010, and taking control of the Kabul airport in April 2010. Greek
planners recently identified force protection concerns, which
present both procurement and budgetary challenges. Venizelos
recently told the Ambassador the deployment would cost 65 million
euros which were not in the Greek budget. Additionally, the
Ministry has requested from the U.S. at reduced cost, leasing, or
grant 32 MRAP-type vehicles, 52 anti-IED ECM devices, and a host of
other equipment including armored dump trucks and bulldozers.
Compounding the issue is the fact that Greek participation in ISAF
remains unpopular with the Greek population at large, and any
casualties - particularly those that could be attributed to
inadequate force protection measures - could result in extreme
pressure on the government to remove its forces from ISAF. In an
encouraging sign, the Minister did tell the Ambassador that Greece
would contribute 3-4 million euros to the ANA Trust Fund and would
keep medical assets, there for elections support, deployed with
Germany in RC-North for the future.

6. (C) The new government is likely to decide on the RC-West
deployment soon. They are keenly watching our review in
Washington, and will be interested in your reassurance as to our
future plans in Afghanistan. We stand to make progress on this
issue if you can assure your interlocutors of continuing U.S.
commitment, our expectation that Allies increase their efforts, and
our willingness to either help them deploy to RC-West, or to work
with them bilaterally and at NATO to develop an alternate
deployment that would fill an important ISAF CJSOR need for which
they are presently equipped and could deploy quickly.




ATHENS 00001623 003.2 OF 006

7. (C) PM Papandreou has launched an initiative calling for full
integration of the Balkans into European institutions by 2014. He
has reached out to his Macedonian counterpart, and the Greeks have
consistently told us they are willing to compromise on the
Macedonia name issue as long as the formula is consistent with the
bipartisan agreement in Greece about how far they can go. Greek
red lines include an insistence on "erga omnes" use internationally
of a new name with a geographic modifier. This controversy remains
emotionally and politically salient for many Greeks. We are
pressing Greece to work to avoid a hard landing or "veto" of the
opening of Macedonia's EU accession talks at the December 10
European Council meeting.

8. (SBU) In other parts of the Balkans, while Greece continues its
non-recognition of Kosovo, it maintains two mechanized infantry
battalions (roughly 600 soldiers) in NATO's KFOR, and is providing
personnel and support to the EU's "Rule of Law Mission" there. We
welcome Greece's ongoing efforts to urge Serbia to take a
forward-looking approach to its future in the European and
Euro-Atlantic community. In Bosnia, Greece participated in NATO's
SFOR operation until its successful conclusion in December 2005.
Greece maintains approximately 45 soldiers in the EU's follow-on
"Althea" security and stability mission.

--------------------------------------------- -----

Turkey: EU Accession and Aegean Issues

--------------------------------------------- -----

9. (C) The Papandreou government continues its predecessor's
support for the accession of Turkey to the EU, but has told us that
they will not give a "blank check" to Turkey unless they see
satisfactory progress on key bilateral issues and Cyprus. PM
Papandreou told the Ambassador he hopes to make quick progress on
improving Greek-Turkish relations, and while he would not
compromise on sovereignty issues, would be willing to settle other
differences with Turkey at the ICJ in The Hague. Papandreou is
proud of his record of cooperation with Turkey during his tenure as
Foreign Minister (1999-2004), and took a bold first step in his
first days in office by traveling to Istanbul - ostensibly for a
Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial conference - during which
he met bilaterally with Turkish PM Erdogan. Erdogan reciprocated
this month with a note to Papandreou, to which the PM has yet to
reply. Turkish EU accession negotiator Egemen Bagis visited Athens
on November 5, during which he met with PM Papandreou, Alternate FM
Droutsas, and gave a speech at a prominent think tank.

10. (C) Greece and Turkey still differ on a host of Aegean issues,
including air/seaspace demarcation, economic zones,
demilitarization issues, flight safety requirements, and
immigration. During the HLCC you will hear Greek complaints of
unannounced Turkish military flights into the Athens Flight
Information Region (FIR), both inside the Greeks' claimed 10
nautical mile airspace boundary (which the U.S. does not recognize,
because of the disparity with their six nautical mile territorial
sea claim), as well as within the internationally recognized six
nautical mile limits. To the chagrin of Turkey, Greece "tags" as
hostile unannounced Turkish military flights in the Athens FIR, and
Greek F-16s routinely intercept such Turkish aircraft. Armed,
low-level Turkish overflights of the inhabited Greek islands of
Agathonisi and Farmakonisi dramatically increased in 2009 compared
to prior years, though the Greeks told us that the Turks suspended

ATHENS 00001623 004.2 OF 006

these flights from September 7 until November 2. Both countries
have in the past attempted to use NATO exercises to press claims or
to make points. In your meetings, we recommend taking an overall
strategic approach that emphasizes mutual respect, confidence
building measures, and safety of flight with both countries, while
encouraging the Greeks to be proactive in offering confidence
building measures. Suggesting that they should stop labeling
unannounced Turkish flights into the Athens FIR as hostile would be
a good step, consistent with what NATO has been encouraging in the


Missile Defense


11. (C) Greek officials viewed the September recalibration of U.S.
missile defense plans positively. Most media, though, portrayed
the step as a concession to Russia. Press reports here have also
speculated about Turkey's role in future missile defense plans, and
intentions for the U.S. to sell Patriot missiles to Turkey.
Government interlocutors have shown interest, as well. We are
aware of ongoing U.S. talks with Turkey over its potential role in
the PAA, and their sensitivity. Your meetings here, though, can do
much to help the Greek government understand where southeastern
Europe and the Med fit into the PAA. We believe that our senior
Greek interlocutors do understand the threat from Iran and the
potentially important role Turkey can play. Proactive engagement
can help us keep the Greek government informed and on our side, and
help them help us as they manage their domestic politics and media


Counter-Piracy and Non-Proliferation


12. (C) We share many views with the Greeks on piracy; this is an
issue where we can maintain a robust and fruitful dialogue. Greece
served as the flagship command of the EU's first ever naval
operation, Atalanta, off of Somalia last year, has a frigate now in
Atalanta's current rotation, and participated in NATO's Ocean
Shield through its rotational contribution to NATO's Standing Naval
Maritime Group 2. Senior Greek Navy officials have told us,
though, they will draw down in the Gulf of Aden if Turkey does in
order to maintain a "balance" in the Aegean. Greece is no longer
in Ocean Shield, as SNMG-1 has taken over command of the operation.
We would like to see a continued Greek presence in NATO
counter-piracy efforts, given Greece's prominent role in
international shipping.

13. (C) On non-proliferation, we have had good practical
cooperation with Greek authorities and shipowners. In the last two
years they have allowed several boardings that uncovered sanctioned
materials on their way to North Korea and Iran. Bilateral
negotiations have frozen regarding a formal Shipboarding Agreement
in the Proliferation Security Initiative framework, yet
non-proliferation remains an area for overall strong cooperation
with the new Greek government.

ATHENS 00001623 005.2 OF 006

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------

Bilateral Defense Relations: Souda Bay and Procurement

--------------------------------------------- ----------------------

14. (C) We have made a sustained high-level push over the past
months with the MOD and MFA to get leaders to cut through the red
tape and to provide the U.S. with written authorization to proceed
with the construction of a badly needed new jet fuel pipeline and
fuel storage tanks that would replace a decaying old pipeline that
runs through an inhabited area, maintain high-capacity refueling
capabilities and protect the environment at and around our Naval
Support Activity at Souda Bay, Crete. 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. The Ambassador recently raised this issue with MOD
Venizelos, who assured the Ambassador he was "ready to solve" this
problem. Your follow up at the HLCC and bilaterally will be
valuable; your message should be that we want to spend $32 million
on the Cretan economy to upgrade our strategic relationship,
safeguard the environment, and keep Souda a key facility for
Greece, the U.S., and NATO. Continued delay threatens the
Congressional funding, and increases risk.

15. (C) Greece is a large purchaser of U.S. defense goods. We
have over $8 billion in FMS cases and there is potential for more
than $6 billion coming up for international competition over the
next two years, though Greek budget difficulties may hamper that.
MOD Venizelos complained to the Ambassador on November 4 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.
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. (Comment:
This means that many of Greece's Aegean intercept sorties are being
flown by aircraft with no/no defensive countermeasures. End

16. (C) More broadly, we need to reinforce the new Papandreou
administration's effort to bring transparency and fair competition
into their procurement processes. Greek national security as well
as U.S. defense companies have suffered in the past when decisions
were made based on political factors. In some instances, Greek
readiness and interoperability have been degraded. The Ambassador
has argued to interlocutors that U.S. companies will do well if the
new government simply pursues what is good for the Greek taxpayer
and Greece's own national security, as we believe U.S. defense
products can stand on their own in a free market and fair


Other Issues


17. (C) OTHER MILITARY CONTRIBUTIONS: Greek contributions to

ATHENS 00001623 006.2 OF 006

other important initiatives are substantial and should not be
overlooked. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force rely heavily on Naval
Support Activity Souda Bay in Crete as a support hub for sea and
air operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
(Comment: Although it is fine to thank them privately during
meetings, Greek public sentiment is generally anti-NATO, and
anti-American military, so the help Greece gives us at Souda Bay
and with frequent transshipments of ammunition are subjects they
would like to keep private avoiding any public acknowledgments.)
Greece allows over 24,000 over-flights of U.S. military aircraft a
year; participates in NATO's Operations Active Endeavour; the EU's
counter-piracy mission off of Somalia Operation Atalanta; and the
UN's Lebanon mission, UNIFIL.

18. (C) IMMIGRATION: You will hear about this from your
interlocutors. Greece has become an entry point of choice for
illegal immigrants into the European Union. The number of illegal
migrants detained by Greek authorities has increased dramatically
over the last two years, reaching 140,000 last year (in a country
with a population of only about 11 million). The presence of these
migrants - many of whom originated in conflict zones in
Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East and entered Greece via
Turkey - has become a major political issue. It also roils
Greek-Turkish relations on occasion, with the Greeks leveling
accusations that Turkey does not do enough to stop the outflow to
Greece, and indeed, aids and abets the illegal immigrants. Greece
is making a strong push for the European Union to take this issue
on and to negotiate repatriation agreements with source countries
such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. The EU's border security agency,
Frontex, has its largest operation on Greek territory, which has
caused irritation to Turkey at times.

19. (S) TERRORISM: You should also be aware that Greece has been
burdened with a resurgence of domestic terrorism. Following
several years of a lull with the wrap-up of the November 17 group,
attacks by new groups have sharply increased. On October 27, Greek
terrorists opened fire on a police station and fled the scene,
wounding six officers, two seriously. An ammonium nitrate car bomb
was detonated at the Athens Stock Exchange on September 2 this
year, causing significant material damage, and a police officer was
murdered in June. The U.S. Embassy suffered an RPG attack in
January of 2007. The U.S. has been offering technical assistance
and sharing intelligence through DHS, FBI, and other agencies, but
the Greeks are woefully unprepared for any significant increase in
terrorist activity. We are also concerned that the rise of Greece
as a migration path from troubled spots to Western Europe and
vice-versa opens the door to international extremists making a
foothold here or using Greece as a "safe house" for planning
nefarious activities.

20. (U) We are very much looking forward to your visit and hosting
you here in Athens.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Tigray: Eritrean Refugees ‘scared And Struggling To Eat’ Amid Aid Obstacles
For the first time in weeks, aid teams have reached refugee camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, only to find that some Eritrean nationals living there have likely died of preventable diseases, while others are “scared and struggling to get enough to eat”, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said on Friday...

UN News: Rare Coral Reef Discovered Near Tahiti Is ‘Like A Work Of Art’, Says Diver
One of the largest coral reefs in the world has been discovered by a UN-supported scientific mission off the coast of Tahiti. Announcing the stunning find on Thursday, UNESCO said that divers had explored large rose-shaped corals spanning some three kilometres, at depths of between 30 and 65 metres... More>>

Tonga Eruption: At Least 3 Dead, Amid Severe Destruction
At least three people have died in Tonga following the massive volcanic eruption and subsequent tsunami wave that hit over the weekend. Homes and other buildings across the archipelago have suffered major damage... More>>

Ethiopia: UN Chief Lauds ‘Demonstrable Effort To Make Peace’

The UN Secretary-General on Wednesday said he was “delighted” to learn that “a demonstrable effort to make peace” in Ethiopia is finally underway, according to information relayed to him by the African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa... More>>

Tigray: Agencies Suspend Aid As ‘Scores’ Are Killed Due To Airstrikes
Recent airstrikes on camps for internally displaced persons and refugees in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, have reportedly killed scores of civilians, including children, and left many more injured... More>>

UN News: For 25th Year In A Row, Greenland Ice Sheet Shrinks

2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the key Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season, than it gained during the winter, according to a new UN-endorsed report issued on Friday... More>>

  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC