On his return to the United States Dr Edward Capps, the former US Minister in Athens, held an interesting conversation with the Undersecretary of State in Washington DC on June 16, 1921. He was in a good position to provide his government with a first hand account of developments in Greek politics and that the Greek Prime Minister was interested in improving relations with the United States.
Capps raises some interesting points in his conversation. He states
- "King Constantine’s position in Greece, owing to the fact that the offensive against the Turkish nationalists has brought about unity."
- "Venizelos willing to back Constantine in this offensive movement."
- "British Legation, headed by Lord Granville, strong outside influence in Athens. Granville on good terms with Government officials but not admirer of Constantine."
- "Granville warmly in favor of recognizing Constantine, in order that Great Britain’s influence on Near Eastern situation may be effectively exerted."
Some comments are warranted here to the statements above. The first point is correct in that Constantine had promised to continue with Venizelos’s foreign policy in Asia Minor against the Turkish nationalists. Secondly Venizelos would have certainly supported Constantine’s military attack against the Kemalists. It is, however, hard to imagine that Venizelos and Constantine would have cooperated in other political matters, when one considers their fierce differences over foreign policy during the First World War. This schism (also known as the Dichasmos) lead to the formation of two rival administrations one in Athens under Constantine’s control and the Provisional government of Venizelos in Salonika between September 1916 to June 1917.
Capps was correct that the British Legation exercised a lot of influence in Greece. Lord Granville was appointed as the British Minister to the Salonika Government during the First World War where he came to admire Venizelos. This may partly explain Granville’s antipathy towards Constantine. Granville’s role as British Minister in Athens was to try minimize French influence in Greece. After all it was the French who were the most vociferous in their opposition to Constantine’s return in December 1920.
The Greek Prime Minister Dimitrios Gounaris held an informal meeting prior to Capps departure for the United States. Gounaris “ expressed [his] disappointment that the United States had not recognized the Government of King Constantine after guarantees had been given that all international agreements would be honored and recognized, which are made during the preceding reign by the Government of King Alexander ” and “ That the Government was willing to observe scrupulously all international undertakings entered into by the Government of King Alexander and the Allied and Associated Powers during the period of the war.”
The Royalist regime tried unsuccessfully to win the support of its European allies-Great Britain, France and Italy- in its quest to impose by militarily force the provisions of the Treaty of Sevres on the Kemalists. The European powers were interested in opening negotiations with the Turkish Nationalists.
Gounaris mentioned that “ all international agreements” meaning that financial loans negotiated by Venizelos “would be honored and recognised.” On February 10, 1918 Britain, France and United States provided Greece (i.e. Venizelos Government) with a loan of 750 million francs who in return provided the Allies with Greek troops which were used in the Balkans campaign of 1917-18. The lenders might have been concerned that Constantine might renege on his country’s financial obligations under the 1918 loan agreement. Furthermore if the United States had recognized Constantine’s regime, then this would have forced the major European powers to act swiftly in the same direction. Perhaps Gounaris was trying to drive a wedge between the United States and the major European powers. Obviously the United States did not wish to act independently of the major European powers, particularly Great Britain. The United States was not interested in becoming embroiled in the political squabbles of the major European powers in Greece and the Near East. She was only interested in applying the open door policy to win economic concessions and gain new markets for American manufactures in the Near East.
Capps informed Gounaris that on his return to the United States that “ he would recommend that King Constantine send his representative to call upon the President and Secretary of State and assure them formally that the Government of Greece would observe all acts made by the Government of King Alexander.” Such a move on the part of the Greeks would certainly assisted in improving Greco-American relations, especially when Constantine’s regime was considered a pariah by the Europeans, particularly by France. Capps viewed with favor a US recognition of Constantine provided the Greek assurances were received.
Lastly Capps was very critical of Barton Hall, the US Charge d’Affaires ad interim in Athens, who was tactless in his dealings with the British Legation. Capps stated that Hall went through difficult times with the previous US Minister Garrett Droppers and this had made him “ very sensitive” and “ that his transfer, would, therefore, be advisable.” Maybe Capps saw the Athens post as important enough for the United States to send a diplomat to run the American Legation and who also would be able to maintain good relations with the British. Alternatively a friendly American Minister might over time be an important factor in bringing about an improvement in Greek-American relations and even attempt to curtail British influence in Greece.
Stavros T.Stavridis Historical Researcher, National Centre for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia (email@example.com)