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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 18:40 GMT
Terrorism row clouds Greek-US talks
Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou
Mr Simitis (left) was hoping to focus talks on Cyprus
By Daniel Howden in Athens

Allegations in the US media that Greece is soft on terrorism are overshadowing a visit by Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis to Washington.

With the Greek mission hoping to focus talks on a resolution to the Cyprus dispute and relations with Turkey, a CBS programme on the notorious Greek militant group, November 17, has drawn attention to a much more uncomfortable issue.

"They are tolerating a terrorist group because revealing [them] is more costly than not

Thomas Niles, former US ambassador
November 17 claims responsibility for the murder of British Defence Attache Stephen Saunders in Athens in June 2000.

Brigadier Saunders was November 17's first British victim, and its 22nd killing since the group surfaced in 1975 with the murder of CIA station chief Richard Welch.

"Our talks with the US political leadership will focus on the strengthening of bilateral political and economic relations," Mr Simitis said before flying to the US.

Crises addressed

The Greek premier pledged to address "the unsolved sources of crises that continue to affect our geopolitical region as well as the Cyprus issue."

In the CBS 60 Minutes programme, former US ambassador to Greece Thomas Niles alleged that links between the ruling Pasok party and November 17 had prevented arrests being made.

Brigadier Stephen Saunders
Greece pledged to do all it could to catch Brigadier Saunders' killers

"They are tolerating a terrorist group because from their domestic political perspective, revealing the terrorist group is more costly than not," Mr Niles claimed.

Greek political parties have demonstrated a rare unanimity in their response to the programme.

Foreign Minister George Papandreou, accompanying Mr Simitis on the US trip, has registered an official complaint through the embassy in New York over CBS' decision not to run any part of an interview with him, in which he strongly denied the existence of such links.

Similarly, the opposition New Democracy MP Dora Bakoyianni, whose husband was killed by November 17, described as "unacceptable" CBS's cutting of an interview she gave to the programme.

The Greek parliament has joined the chorus of disapproval, hitting out at the description of its speaker, Apostolos Kaklamanis, as a "super nationalist" with sympathies for November 17.

Unacceptable insult

"It is unacceptable to insult the institution of the speaker of the Greek Parliament with such ease and without evidence," said a New Democracy party spokesman.

President Bush knows very well that we are with this part of the world that has decide to fight terrorism

Costas Simitis

Mr Kaklamanis himself has attacked "the unacceptable, disgusting and libellous claims which were made by the well-known anti-Greek propagandist, Thomas Niles that I am well-disposed to November 17."

Mr Simitis has sought to defuse tensions and return to his original agenda by restating Greece's commitment to the war on terrorism.

"President Bush and his team know very well that we are with the Americans, and we are with this part of the world that has decide to fight terrorism," Mr Simitis told a news conference at the United Nations in New York.

Greece has contributed military units to the British-led international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.

The Greek premier has also insisted that failure to make a single arrest in connection with November 17 would not compromise security at the Athens 2004 Olympics.

"There should be no concern about security at the next Olympic Games," Mr Simitis said.

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