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On a High Wire With No Umbrella

March 15, 1985

The U.S. government has responded with appropriate reserve to troubling events in Greece--a posture on the part of Washington that can minimize the potential for damage to bilateral relations and Greece's connections to the European Community and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou has now driven out of office one of Europe's great statesmen, Constantine Karamanlis, who courageously led the nation back to democracy. Karamanlis had little choice but to resign as president after the prime minister dropped support for his reelection. The maneuver has by no means assured that parliament, when it convenes this weekend to try to agree on a successor, will muster the necessary votes to install Papandreou's choice, Christos Sartzetakis. He is a Supreme Court justice and, at 56, the junior of Karamanlis by 22 years. But the odds would seem to favor election of the new president by the third and final ballot provided for under the constitution, because on that ballot the minimum vote requirement drops from 200 to 180.

Failure to agree on a new president would bring dissolution of parliament and national elections. In any event, elections are required by Oct. 15. Papandreou has clouded his prospects with some of his recent maneuvers, including a proposal to remodel the constitution itself to strengthen his own powers. Nevertheless, there is a strong possibility that he will lead his Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, PASOK, to a majority in the parliament--but probably a smaller majority than he won five years ago.

Experts are reluctant to predict what reelection might mean. So far, Papandreou's bark has proved worse than his bite. He has railed at Washington, NATO and the European Community, disrupted delicate community agreements and threatened worse, but signed a five-year extension of the agreement for U.S. military bases, permitted port visits by the 6th Fleet and insisted as recently as Tuesday that he has no intention of quitting the alliance. He has seemed like a high-wire artist without an umbrella--thrashing the air to keep balance, perhaps driven to some of his more outrageous statements by internal party pressures, most likely from the left in his own party. His record is littered with gratuitous comments and abrasive positions, calling the United States "the metropolis of imperialism" and accusing it of "expansionism and domination," questioning Western support for Solidarity in Poland, determining that the Korean Air Lines jet shot down over the Soviet Union was an American spy plane, siding with Moscow in the European missile controversy, implying that Turkey is the principal strategic threat to Greece. But responding to Papandreou in kind only seems to raise the risk of more bark with more bite.

John C. Loulis has some good advice in the winter issue of Foreign Affairs. He is director of studies at the Center for Political Research and Information in Athens. He argues that "domestic factors sustain Papandreou's radical anti-Westernism" and that "the West, and particularly the United States, should carefully nurture his realistic core commitment to the Western alliance, despite his provocative and radical rhetoric--and particularly as Greece enters the national election year of 1985." The State Department seems to be doing just that.

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