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The Colonels’ Coup and the American Embassy

A Diplomat’s View of the Breakdown of Democracy in Cold War Greece Robert V. Keeley, and Prologue by John O. Iatrides
“[The Colonels’ Coup and the American Embassy] is an excellent description of the embassy’s knowledge of the events leading to the coup and the inner workngs of the embassy. . . . [Keeley] is an excellent writer.”

Robert Keeley was a Foreign Service officer stationed in Greece during one of the most tumultuous events in the country’s history, the so-called Colonels’ coup of April 21, 1967. This is his insider’s account of how U.S. policy was formulated, debated, and implemented from 1966 to 1969, the critical years directly before and after the coup.

A major event in the history of the Cold War, the coup ushered in a seven-year period of military rule in Greece. In its wake, some eight thousand people affiliated with the Communist Party were rounded up, and Greece became yet another country where the fear of Communism led the United States into alliance with a repressive right-wing authoritarian regime. In military coups in some other countries, it is known that the CIA and other agencies of the U.S. government played an active role in encouraging and facilitating the takeover. The Colonels’ coup, however, came as a surprise to the United States (which was expecting a Generals’ coup instead). Yet the U.S. government accepted it after the fact, despite internal disputes within policymaking circles about the wisdom of accommodating the upstart Papadopoulos regime. Keeley was among those dissenters.

Robert V. Keeley was a U.S. Foreign Service officer from 1956 to 1989. His last assignment was as the U.S. ambassador in Athens from 1985 to 1989. From 1990 to 1995, he was president of the Middle East Institute in Washington. Since 2005, he has been chairman of the Council for the National Interest Foundation, working for peace in the Middle East.



Prologue by John O. Iatrides

1. Introduction with Dramatis Personae

2. Setting the Scene

First Impressions

The Political Situation

The Phenomenon of Andreas Papandreou

The Monarchy

Trials and Negotiations

An Alternative: U.S. Intervention?

3. The Author Gets Involved

Andreas’s March 1 Speech

A Policy Assessment

Preparing for Elections

4. The Days Before the Coup

Presentiments and Alarums

Washington Weighs In

5. The Coup

The Coup of April 21, 1967

Assessing the Coup

Coup Vignettes

6. Reacting to the Coup

“Our Present Dilemma”

Other Reactions

Mac Thompson’s Attempt

A Draft Telegram

Mac and I Try Again

7. Dealing with the New Government

A Call on Kollias

A Postmortem

A Visit by Nixon

Shift of Focus

8. Andreas Papandreou and Prospects for Democracy

Andreas in Danger

Bits and Pieces

Meeting Margaret


9. The Countercoup

Planning the King’s Coup

Crisis in Cyprus

Checkmate of Constantine

Aftermath of Failure

10. Assessing the Colonels’ Regime

The FDR Fiasco

Andreas Released

“Dear Charley”

Harassment Continues

The Meaning of Fascism

11. Friction at the Embassy

Kay Leaves, I Continue

Go Along to Get Along

Parallels with Pakistan

12. Looking to the Future of Greece

Assessment of Andreas

The Papandreou Funeral

Was Greece Ever a Democracy?

Don’t Make Waves

13. Final Thoughts


All’s Well That Ends Well?

Appendix A: Seferis and the Clinton Speech

Appendix B: Internal Embassy Memoranda, March–June 1968



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