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Clinton Says U.S. Regrets Aid to Junta in Cold War

Greece: American support for colonels' harsh regime has hampered efforts to bring Athens into a Balkans leadership role in line with Western policy.

November 21, 1999|JAMES GERSTENZANG and RICHARD BOUDREAUX | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In his public remarks, the president largely ignored the unrest, other than to acknowledge the "anger and anguish" in Greece over the Yugoslavia airstrikes and to defend the military operation.

But as he paid homage to the origin in Greece 2,600 years ago of the democratic principles on which the U.S. was established, he said:

"If the people of every country, in the Balkans, for example, had the institutions and habits of democracy, if they too could proudly express and settle their differences peacefully and proudly and democratically, if the fundamental human rights of all those people were respected, there might not have been a war over Bosnia or Kosovo."

Greece, long feeling it has been looked on as a poor cousin when Washington cast its gaze to the more wealthy states of Europe, has nevertheless played a substantial role for decades in U.S. foreign policy--first as a North Atlantic Treaty Organization counterbalance to Soviet influence in the Balkans and now as an example to which Clinton points as a model of democracy and prosperity.

But it was to the often angry, widely distrustful and occasionally violent Greek-Turkish relationship, and the spillover in divided Cyprus, that Clinton devoted himself throughout the six days he spent in Turkey and Greece.

As he nears the final year of his term, the president has focused increasingly on the so-far intractable, ethnic-based disputes that have divided Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, and Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

Clinton made little progress in lobbying the Greeks and Turks for a compromise that would enable Greece to support Turkey's candidacy for European Union membership at a summit in Helsinki, Finland, next month, but U.S. and Greek officials said he improved the climate.

He also got no assurance that Turkey is willing to offer Greece new concessions it seeks on Cyprus and Aegean Sea claims.

"I can't point to anything dramatic to say that the relationship has advanced" during Clinton's visit, said a U.S. official. "But we never saw it as a last chance saloon."

U.S. officials said Clinton told Greek officials that approval of Turkey's candidacy, a first step on a years-long path toward full EU membership, is the best way to ease Greek-Turkish hostility over the long run. The vote by the 15-member EU must be unanimous.

Greek officials said that what Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit had offered, under pressure from U.S. officials, had been minimal: He persuaded the Turkish Cypriot leader to resume talks with his Greek Cypriot counterpart on the future of the divided island.

Turkish officials sound unwilling to make new concessions for EU candidacy.

Clinton went so far in his effort to present an acceptable face to the Greeks that he acquiesced in a plea that he use his influence with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to persuade the British Museum to return the Elgin Marbles. The antiquities, sculpture from the Parthenon, were spirited away early in the 19th century by the British archeologist Lord Elgin, who is now widely perceived as a plunderer.

The president meets today with Blair at a conference in Florence, Italy, to which he flew Saturday.

The pitch was made by Greece's minister of culture, Elisavet Papazoi, who accompanied Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, on a tour of the Acropolis on Saturday morning.

"He said he was going to help us for the return of the Parthenon marble," she said. Asked whether she expected him to raise the matter quickly with Blair, she smiled and said, "Yes. Tomorrow."

*

Times special correspondent Amberin Zaman in Istanbul contributed to this story.

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