WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Colin Powell canceled his
trip to Greece at the last minute partly because of concern his
presence -- expected to be met with anti-war protests -- might have
disrupted the closing ceremony at the Olympics, State Department
officials said Saturday.
Powell's decision, announced just hours before he was to depart,
came after anti-American protests in Athens on Friday that featured
"Powell Go Home" placards.
The secretary was not concerned about his own security but felt
Greek organizers were entitled to carry out the Sunday night
ceremony without the potential for distraction that his presence
might have caused, said two State Department officials, speaking on
condition of anonymity.
Many Greeks had wondered why Powell planned to visit this
weekend, knowing his presence would likely provoke protests. Until
Powell announced his visit, there had been none of the
anti-American demonstrations that were feared in the run-up to the
He discussed the situation on Friday with Greek Foreign Minister
Petros Moliviatis. Powell said he hopes to travel to Athens in
The officials said a contributing factor was the U.N. Security
Council's debate this week over the performance of the Sudanese
government in carrying out a council resolution last month on
The council set Monday as the deadline for Sudan to demonstrate
it is acting to improve security and humanitarian access in Darfur
and to curb Arab militias in the western Sudanese region.
Some council members, notably China and Pakistan, have been
reluctant to take strong steps against Sudan. It is not clear what
the United States will recommend during the upcoming deliberations.
In Athens, the Greek foreign ministry said Powell decided
against the trip because of "urgent responsibilities."
The State Department said initially that the situations in Iraq
and Sudan led to the cancellation. Later, however, officials said
Sudan was the primary foreign concern this weekend for Powell.
On Wednesday, a department spokesman, Adam Ereli, said officials
were aware of protest plans. "We are committed to visiting our
Greek friends and sharing in this very important occasion," he
In a letter, Powell congratulated Moliviatis "for the
especially successful and secure organization of the games."
Friday's protest was directed largely against U.S. policies in
Iraq. Greece, along with about 10 other members of NATO, is not a
part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Riot police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators
protesting Powell's planned visit. About 1,500 people who took part
in the march were prevented from taking their protest to the U.S.
"It is an enormous victory of the anti-war movement that
managed to cancel the visit of the arch-killer Powell," protest
organizer Yiannis Sifahakis told The Associated Press.
Communist Party member Aristotelis Gontikas said Powell's
decision was a victory for those opposed to U.S. policies and was
not targeted at Americans.
"I believe that the reaction of the Greek people still counts.
It is not by chance that Greeks measure in polls as the most
anti-American," Gontikas told the AP.