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Diplomacy: A Trip That’s Greek To Clinton’s Planners

2 minute read
Ann Blackman/Washington

When Bill Clinton planned to start this week’s European trip with a stopover in Athens, his timing could hardly have been worse. Clinton knew he had to visit Greece because he was going to its rival Turkey, but his brain trust never debated the wisdom of a schedule that would put him in Athens shortly before Wednesday, Nov. 17. That sensitive anniversary commemorates a 1973 crackdown on pro-democracy students and is traditionally marked by demonstrations against the U.S. Moreover, Greeks are particularly angry at Washington this year over NATO’s bombing of Kosovo. Still, “no one believed security conditions were so bad that the President could not come,” says a senior American official. U.S. diplomats tried to blame Athens for the scheduling gaffe, insisting Greek Premier COSTAS SIMITIS changed his mind after promising U.S. Ambassador NICK BURNS that no permit would be issued for a large protest in front of the U.S. embassy on Nov. 13, the original date for Clinton’s arrival. But THEODOSSIS DEMETRICOPOULOS, the Greek-embassy spokesman in Washington, says “no promises were made.” Once they finally woke to the peril, Clinton’s advisers pushed back the start of his Greek visit until this Friday, by which time the explosive anniversary will have come and gone.

–By Ann Blackman/Washington

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