A very long-distance relationship

State visits by Greek kings, presidents or prime ministers to the United States have been sparse, and can be counted on the fingers of one hand. When the counting is done, the realization dawns that the White House did not maintain particularly cordial ties with Greek leaders. In spite of considerable friction in bilateral relations over the course of several decades, the Americans preferred to seek solutions through their ambassadors to Greece, their undersecretaries of state, special envoys or even third parties – prominent figures from countries in the NATO alliance – rather than invite the leaders of Greece to the USA. But even instances of American presidents visiting Athens have been rare. In general, there have been few bilateral summit meetings between Athens and Washington, and some of them were not all that gratifying for the Greek side. Naturally, the Greek press has traditionally portrayed – often going to extremes in the process – these visits as being of particular significance. Who can truly forget the period 1981-1989 when the ruling PASOK party was at the helm, and there were leaks to the press – particularly media outlets with close ties to the then-Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou – of an «impending invitation to visit the USA» which finally came in 1994? One of the most momentous bilateral meetings was that of June 1942 when the then-King George and the prime minister of the government in exile, Emmanouil Tsouderos, were received by then-US President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was a period during which Greece was attempting to develop close ties with the great powers, fighting for the restoration of its territorial integrity after the war. Later, King Paul visited the USA twice, once in 1950 and again in 1957. Both visits were held during formidable times, when Greece was closely attached to the American chariot. On December 1959, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower made a state visit to Greece, the first by an American president. Constantine Karamanlis In April 1961, Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis made an official visit to Washington, following an invitation by US President John F. Kennedy. The day of their meeting, thousands of exiled Cubans, opponents of Fidel Castro, invaded Cuba with the support of the United States, using Florida as their command center. In spite of these developments, President Kennedy found the time to hold two lengthy meetings with the Greek prime minister. The American president also managed to attend the reception at the Greek Embassy, where the countries’ first ladies, Jackie and Amalia, met for the first time. On May 22 of the same year, US Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson came to Athens, and in his meeting with Karamanlis he pledged a steady flow of American aid to Greece. Two years later, Johnson became president and Karamanlis reverted to being a private citizen. George Papandreou During his term as president of the United States, Johnson invited (the elder) George Papandreou, the prime minister of Greece, to the White House, not, however, as a gesture of friendship but rather to discuss Cyprus. Tensions had escalated over Cyprus, with the Americans preferring the Atchison plan, the Turks wishing to divide the Mediterranean island, and the Greeks accepting the plan but attaching conditions unacceptable to the Turks. Papandreou arrived in Washington with Cyprus on the brink of war, flanked by Foreign Minister Stavros Costopoulos and Alternate Coordination Minister Andreas Papandreou. Relations with Makarios in Cyprus were deteriorating, the Americans were piling on the pressure, and Turkish Prime Minister Ismet Inonu refused to accept the plan that Athens had agreed upon. Papandreou returned to Athens empty-handed, with relations with Ankara at their lowest point, but a last-minute Russian intervention that followed an appeal by Makarios managed to avert the partition of the island – or at least postpone it for a decade. The dictatorship of the colonels was not the best thing that could have happened to Greece in Washington’s view – at least officially. Inviting the colonels to the United States was, needless to say, out of the question. Meanwhile, Spiro Agnew, the Greek-American vice president in Richard Nixon’s administration, visited the land of his ancestors, but later was forced to resign amid scandals, while his successor Gerald Ford after Nixon’s resignation became the 38th American president. Constantine Mitsotakis After 1964, it was 26 years before a Greek prime minister was invited to the United States. That was Constantine Mitsotakis, who two months after his election received such an invitation from US President George Bush, and on June 6 visited the White House accompanied by his daughter Dora Bakoyianni. The prime minister called for American intervention in order to reach a just solution to the Cyprus issue, but the appeal fell on stony ground. President Bush reciprocated the visit and became the second American president after Eisenhower to make a state visit to Greece. He was escorted by his wife Barbara and they enjoyed a summer break and the hospitality of Mitsotakis’s wife Marika in Hania, Crete. In 1994, two years before then-Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou died, he received the much-anticipated invitation to the USA in his official capacity. US President Bill Clinton declared himself a fan of his and their meeting was followed by genial talks, but without any substantive political gain. For Papandreou, though, it was the fulfillment of a long-held wish In April 1996, it was Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s turn to make an official visit to Washington. It was the third visit to the USA by a Greek prime minister in five years. Something had changed dramatically. The contacts with President Clinton were on a positive note, but still no progress had been achieved on national issues. The premier’s visit was followed by that of President Costis Stephanopoulos in May 1996, who got a warm reception from President Clinton. It was the first time since 1957 that a Greek head of state had paid a visit to the United States, but bilateral relations reached their heights with a visit to Athens by President Clinton in September 1999. Demonstrations, strongly worded remarks by Stephanopoulos, and a charismatic appearance by Clinton at the Athenaeum Intercontinental Hotel marked the two-day visit by the American president. Of course, the recent invitation by George Bush Jr to Prime Minister Costas Simitis bears only the remotest resemblance to that of his father to Constantine Mitsotakis. One could say, considering the events of recent days, that it smacks more of that from Lyndon Johnson to George Papandreou.

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