June 27, 2000

Embassy Row

James Morrison

News and dispatches from the diplomatic corridor.

Greek terrorism?

The U.S. ambassador to Greece has denounced a Greek-American writer for suggesting that the killing of a British military attache may have been inspired by State Department criticism of Greece's efforts to combat terrorism.

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns said he was "genuinely shocked" after reading an article by Phillip Spyropoulos, director of the American Hellenic Media Project.

Mr. Burns, in a June 12 letter to Mr. Spyropoulos that was sent to other Greek-American leaders, demanded an apology for suggesting that gunmen of the November 17 group who killed Brig. Stephen Saunders were motivated by a recent State Department report that said Greece was failing to control terrorism.

Mr. Spyropoulos defended his right as an American citizen to criticize the government and blamed the State Department for creating "the perception of an exaggerated terrorist threat in Greece."

In his letter, Mr. Burns said, "To state baldly that we in the United States government bear any blame for our friend and colleague's brutal murder at the hands of a Marxist-Leninist terror group is grotesque and immoral.

"I am appalled that you would make such a charge publicly, especially against your own government. It is the terrorists who are at fault."

Mr. Burns noted that American diplomats are "targets" of the November 17 group, and that five embassy officials have been killed by them in the past 25 years. Another 30 have been wounded, he said.

"These are the cruel and irrefutable, not imagined, facts," Mr. Burns said. "Terrorism is a deadly matter in Greece. The people responsible for the attacks are the terrorists themselves, and no one else.

"Terrorism has been unchecked in Greece for too long. . . . I suggest you turn your logic and sense of moral purpose to the task which we are engaged in with the Greek government: to defeat the terrorists, and not to provide excuses for their deadly attacks.

"Greece does not need apologists, but encouragement and support, to do the right thing."

Mr. Spyropoulos, in his response, said, "Why you should be so outraged by our raising concerns in the Saunders murder regarding the symbiotic relationship between terrorists and their public exposure, particularly where such publicity was generated by government reports that single-handedly managed to manufacture and publicize the perception of an exaggerated terrorist threat in Greece is difficult to understand."

He also asked Mr. Burns why he even wrote such a "highly critical letter . . . to the director of an American media watchdog group" and distributed it "widely and publicly."

"As my representative abroad, I would hope that in the future, rather than discourage dissent and constructive free speech, you would keep an open mind to credible alternative viewpoints even if they are critical of the foreign policies to which you are committed," Mr. Spyropoulos said.

In his original editorial, titled "Phantom Terror," Mr. Spyropoulos complained that the State Department portrayed Greece as a "terrorist Mecca" when it suffers from a "low-grade urban terrorist problem common to most Western countries."

He noted that Brig. Saunders was killed shortly after the State Department report in May identified November 17 as Greece's most serious terrorist threat in the State Department report.

"The timing of the killing . . . has raised concerns that the group may have been encouraged and empowered by the disproportionate significance it was given in the terrorism report," Mr. Spyropoulos said.

Clinton praises Greece

Here is a footnote to the debate on terrorism in Greece. President Clinton on Sunday praised the Greek government for its efforts to combat terrorists. "I know terrorism can be defeated in Greece with the strength and resolve of the Greek people," he told the newspaper "To Vima." The Greek Embassy highlighted the interview in a press release yesterday.

To contact James Morrison, call 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail

Click here to view the original Phantom Terror editorial

Click here to view an exchange of critical letters between US Ambassador to Greece, Nicholas Burns,
and the Executive Director of the American Hellenic Media Project regarding the above editorial

Click here to view an excerpt from a June 28, 2000 State Department briefing regarding this exchange of letters

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