Sarbanes defends Greek efforts against terrorism

Senator takes issue with commission report

June 07, 2000|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland stoutly defended yesterday the Greek government's efforts to combat terrorism, a day after the release of a U.S. report that said Greece has essentially provided a haven to terrorists who have killed Americans and others.

"The Greek government is very much aware and very sensitive to this issue and is trying to address this issue in cooperation with the United States," said Sarbanes, a senior Democrat who is the son of Greek immigrants and the foremost advocate in Congress of Greece's interests.

"My understanding is that the U.S. and Greece have been working together on a counter-terrorism effort," Sarbanes said in an interview. "That's been ongoing over a considerable period of time."

The report was released Monday by the congressionally chartered National Commission on Terrorism. It singled out Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria as active sponsors of terrorism, and called for heightened measures abroad and at home - including stepped-up surveillance of foreign graduate students in the United States.

But the panel also said Greece and Pakistan had failed to counter terrorism effectively and recommended that the two countries be designated "not cooperating fully" in the fight against terror.

In addition, the commission recommended that residents of Greece and Pakistan be required to obtain visas for all visits to the United States - even short trips that typically do not require visas from citizens of friendly states.

The commission's criticism of Greece, an ally and fellow member of NATO, is blunt.

"Greece has been disturbingly passive in response to terrorist activity," the report says. "Since 1975, there have been 146 terrorist attacks against Americans or American interests in Greece. Only one case has been solved, and there is no indication of any meaningful investigation into the remaining cases."

The Greek authorities, the report notes, have been stymied by attacks by the revolutionary group 17 November that have claimed the lives of 20 people, including four Americans

And, the panel asserted, Greek officials have allowed a Kurdish terrorist group responsible for murdering four U.S. citizens to maintain an office in Athens, while giving refuge to the leader of another Kurdish terrorist organization.

The subject is a delicate one for U.S. officials. During the Cold War, Greece was considered a bulwark against nearby Communist countries. More recently, U.S. and allied troops disembarked at Greek ports during the conflict in Kosovo, despite widespread Greek opposition to NATO activity there.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has rejected the commission's recommendation for sanctions against Greece. She said she and President Clinton have raised concerns over terrorism in talks with Greek officials.

Over the years, Greek-Americans have forged ties with several key lawmakers who defend Greek interests, especially Sarbanes. In advance of this fall's election, the senator appears to have raised at least $160,000 from Americans of Greek descent and their family members, according to campaign finance documents.

In Greece, emotions are raw over the report.

"To single out Greece, which is an ally of the U.S. and the European Union, to treat it in such a hostile way, is unacceptable," said Achilles Paparsenos, a spokesman for the Greek Embassy in Washington. "It questions the commitment and the will of the Greek government to fight terrorism, from which we suffer as well."

Sarbanes sounded a similar theme, though he cautioned that he did not know what specific information the commission had used in drawing its conclusions.

"They have not been able to crack that November 17th group," Sarbanes said. "But that's on [Greece's] agenda and on everyone's agenda."

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