- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2002

Greece's deadly far-left militant November 17 group will not pose a security threat to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, despite the government's inability so far to crack the terrorist group's operations, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis said yesterday.
Meeting with reporters at the end of a two-day Washington visit that included private talks with President Bush and top Cabinet officials, Mr. Simitis said the "anarchist" November 17 group had a "Robin Hood" self-image, preferring to attack unprotected targets "that can win it the acceptance of the Greek population."
With the 2004 Games a source of deep national pride, "I don't think it is in their mentality up to now to make an attack on the Olympic Games," Mr. Simitis said.
The November 17 group has claimed responsibility for 22 assassinations since 1975, including several Americans. Authorities have been unable to make a single arrest and the failure has been a source of tension in U.S.-Greek relations.
Greek authorities are spending some $600 million on security for the 2004 Games, and have been out in force to observe how U.S. officials will protect athletes and spectators at the Salt Lake City Winter Games that begin next month. Mr. Simitis said the extraordinary precautions in Greece were under way even before the September 11 terrorist strikes in the United States.
Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who accompanied the prime minister on his visit, said the extreme insular nature of November 17 had made it difficult for both U.S. and Greek investigators to penetrate the group. There are no suspects in the group's most recent strike, the June 2000 slaying of British defense attache Stephen Saunders.
Unlike other violent European terrorist groups, November 17 "hasn't attempted to create any mass movement and hasn't tried to recruit." Mr. Papandreou said. "When a group doesn't recruit, it makes it very difficult for the authorities to develop information."
Mr. Simitis denied persistent charges aired most recently by former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Niles on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday that his socialist government has been lax in pursuing November 17 because of links between the urban guerrilla group and members of his own leftist ruling party.
The charge is "ridiculous," Mr. Simitis contended. "If we could arrest members of November 17, it would be an immense success for the government at home."
Greece's contributions to the U.S.-led war on terrorism have brought a warmer tone to bilateral relations, which were strained by the terrorism dispute and by the 1999 NATO war in Kosovo, which was deeply unpopular with the Greek electorate.
Greece has offered to supply military forces and medical units for the Afghanistan campaign, and Mr. Simitis said Greece will also participate in the upcoming Tokyo conference on rebuilding Afghanistan after the war.
After Wednesday's White House meeting, President Bush praised the Greek prime minister's "strong stand against terror."
Mr. Simitis said yesterday he pressed top U.S. officials to remain involved in the Balkans because a visible U.S. presence in the region is vital to maintain stability.
"You may not need to have the 3,000 soldiers you have there now," he said, "but it is very important to have some American troops there. It sends a very important political message."
The prime minister also made a pitch for the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in the next expansion of NATO.
Mr. Simitis said many of the political and military reforms in the two countries had been spurred by the hopes of joining NATO and the European Union, and rejection could lead to "political unrest" in both countries.
Mr. Simitis said Greece's perennially difficult relations with Turkey had improved in the past few years, but dismissed a recent move by ethnic Turks on the divided island of Cyprus to agree to new talks on a political settlement as a "tactical move."

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