Now available in a layered translation, the book-testimony of the late American diplomat Montigl Sterns about the “Papandreou riddle” has gathered the lively interest of the reading public and numerous book reviews in the Greek press. And for obvious reasons. Appointed in 1981 by the newly elected US President Ronald Reagan, Sterns took over as US Ambassador to Athens in a crisis and potentially dangerous situation in Greek-American relations. A few months after his arrival, Andreas Papandreou, his other personal friend, will win the October 1981 election triumphantly with a socialist platform that included the removal of US bases and the potential disengagement of Greece from the two Western armies. governments “instinctively [έτρεφαν] distrust between them “, as Sterns writes,” and [είχαν] diametrically opposed views on America’s proper role in the world “(p. 172).
With the Cold War on the rise again, he reasonably raised the question of whether Papandreou’s election as prime minister would lead to a rupture in Greece’s plans with the transatlantic superpower. However, these concerns were refuted. With the help of Sterns’ diplomatic skills, relations between the two countries, disturbed by the junta and the Cyprus issue, will eventually reach “calmer waters”, as Papandreou himself described them in 1985.
What is the reason for this outcome? To this question, the book gives some clues but not a satisfactory answer. And maybe this is to be expected. Sterns did not write the book to record his own version of the course of Greek-American plans. He wrote it to present the “Papandreou riddle”, where he seems to conclude that riddles may be formulated, but, by nature, are not solved. “The striking political figures,” he admits in the epilogue, “are instantly recognized and at the same time remain essentially unknown” (p. 213).
At the same time, Sterns recounts historical money and many times amusingly uploaded that illuminate important moments in the diplomatic engagement with the Greek leader, thus opening a fan of issues that require further research. This note briefly addresses one of these issues: the incidents, behind the scenes or not, surrounding his appointment as ambassador. Sterns himself attributes his appointment to the US State Department’s success in moving to the White House that “the unstable Athenian political scene” required the placement of an expert with Greece. [σ. 167] (“An Old Greek Hand”), a qualification he acquired in the two previous positions at the US Embassy in Athens from 1958 to 1962 and from 1974 to 1977.
Despite Sterns’ credentials, the appointment sparked controversy when it was discovered. He makes special reference to the perceptions “of a well-known Greek shipowner, who expressed his concern to Foreign Minister Alexander Hague that I was allegedly a close friend of Andreas Papandreou and his father. He quoted a passage from Margaret Papandreou’s book, “Nightmare in Athens”, in which he quoted the text telegram he had sent from Congo to Papandreou’s senior after the 1963 elections.  (It is noted that Sterns’ description is inaccurate in small but important details. He did not send a text telegram to Elder Papandreou, but a detailed lengthy letter to Andreas and Margarita. When Minister Hague “promoted me on the charges of shipowner”, Sterns managed to reassure the minister that in Greece he would fulfill the Federal States.
However, as he took office in Athens, he felt the need to constantly reaffirm his commitment to American interests. But at this point, it is interesting to admit that the predictions for the results of the 1981 elections made in credit reports to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (it was only at the embassy that estimated that Rallis would have won marginally) “had appeared out of my desire “Do not scare Washington, where Andreas Papandreou was considered dangerous.” This brief report suggests that critics of his placement in Athens were also present within the Reagan administration. And this finding is reinforced by Sterns’ bitter remark that “explaining to Washington what Andreas Papandreou was became a major undertaking.”
Probably due to diplomatic secrecy, Sterns does not speak in depth about his intergovernmental critics. But it is historically proven that since 1964, when Papandreou contributed to the collapse of the pro-Northeast plan for the partition of Cyprus, he had been blacklisted by US officials. Subsequently, his notoriety as a dangerous anti-American demagogue was practically adopted by all subsequent American governments, especially by the State Department and the Pentagon. And here the question arises: how and why was Sterns chosen to handle relations with Greece at that critical juncture?
The answer lies in the intergovernmental processes surrounding his appointment. While Sterns’ historical relationship with the scorned Papandreou raised suspicions within the government about his appointment as ambassador, he had a strong ally and protector in the man who nominated and promoted him for his position. I mean Lawrence Eagleberger, a diplomat of great prestige and influence. In the spring of 1981, Eagleberger was Undersecretary of State for European Affairs. In this post, Eagleberger opposed the Pentagon’s excessive influence on foreign policy to the detriment of the State Department. In fact, in a historic interview, he cites Greece and the Philippines, countries with US military bases, as examples of mishandling due to the Pentagon’s influence.
It is noteworthy that in the book Sterns, in the context of his critique of Papandreou’s attitude, finds the opportunity to criticize American policy in Greece in a way that coincides with Eagleberger’s views. “While he understood the history of Andreas’s record of the US paramilitary-militarized approach to Greece, made very narrow by the needs of the Cold War, I found his public stance on the regime that supports America cynical, excessive and counterproductive.” This diplomatic critique of US foreign policy does indeed point to the root of the problem, since in the US support for the junta (wary of Johnson and cordial of Nixon), the Pentagon played a key role.
In the context of Eagleberger’s attempt to take over the Foreign Ministry, a leading role in shaping policy towards Greece, Sterns’ appointment revealed a specific significance. It signaled the Reagan administration’s intention not to be hostile or subversive to a Papandreou government, but rather to seek a diplomatic solution to the two countries’ differences.
A new dimension of the project emerges from the side of Andreas Papandreou. In the spring of 1981, when work began on Sterns’s appointment, Papandreou took an initiative that, at least in general, chose the option of adopting a negotiating approach to the plans in Greece. According to an interview given by Asimakis Fotilas to Costas Mardas, who published it in his book “Behind the Sun PASOK” (Gnosi publications, 1995), in May 1981, Papandreou went on fire, his future Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs. , carrying out a secret mission to Washington. Before leaving for the USA, Fotilas went up to Kastri where Papandreou explained the purpose of the mission. “We have to go to the State Department to reassure them, because they have no real idea of our program and our opponents are distorting our positions. As you can understand, Asimaki, part of our success in the elections, but also later as a government. It depends on our relationship with the United States. “
In Washington, Fotilas says he presented PASOK positions to “around five experts” for 2.5 hours. In the presentation, Fotilas states that he explained “the historical and national causes of anti-American sentiments” in Greece as well as “the Turkish danger that threatens the status quo in the Aegean”. But perhaps more impressively, he told them “under the authority of the PASOK leader that there is no question of removing the bases” but a revision of the agreement. Finally, he had a one-on-one meeting with Eagleberger, “where the new perception of PASOK’s attitude towards the United States was somehow returned.”
In essence, Papandreou sought to reassure Americans that if he did not vote in the October election, he would not bring them to the forefront with unilateral action. He sought bilateral negotiations. As the elections approached, but also after his victory, Papandreou made many gestures to strengthen this “new perception”. Here is just one example: the last pre-election rally on October 15 in the Constitution. In his speech, Papandreou focused almost exclusively on the reform program that fell to PASOK to be implemented. Only a few minutes at the end of the speech he referred to foreign policy. And there, no talk of American bases was said. Instead, he raised the question of what would become the core of his policy of securing national interests: A guarantee from NATO allies against the threat from the East.
* Mr. Spyros Drainas is a historian. The text is based on the publication of the book “Andreas Papandreou: The enigma” (published by Estia Bookstore).