Originally created 01/13/04

Athens security chiefs to meet top U.S. security officials



ATHENS, Greece -- Olympic security chiefs will meet in Washington this week with top U.S. officials ahead of exercises involving American personnel in March, Greek officials said Monday.

A delegation led by Public Order Minister Giorgos Floridis has scheduled meetings beginning Thursday to discuss drills and other security issues with CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller, who visited Athens in November, and others.

Details of the American participation in the March security exercises were not disclosed.

The 20-day operation will include simulated threats and actual ground maneuvers against terrorist situations and other scenarios before the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.

Greece also plans an exercise Feb. 6-8 for potential nuclear, biological or chemical attacks. U.S. biochemical experts have worked closely with Olympic organizers.

Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said all NATO countries are involved in the security planning for the Athens Olympics.

"NATO member countries will be on a high state of alert ... (and) will cooperate with us in terms of being ready to intervene if a crisis erupts," Papantoniou said. "But as far as the Greek soil is concerned, there will be only Greek forces."

He made the remarks after attending a demonstration by a Greek special forces unit at a military training facility near Athens. Members of the unit performed a series of drills, target practice, hand-to-hand combat and amphibious landings.

"If there is a problem with security of the Olympic Games it is you who will first intervene and protect us. We depend on you," Papantoniou told the troops.

Greek police also will have no vacations or time off from July 1 until late September, said Greece's police chief, Fotis Nasiakos.

The issue of outside security help is sensitive in Greece, where officials insist they are capable of safeguarding the games. But Greece has reached out for backup support from NATO allies and is working with a seven-nation security advisory group, which includes the United States, Israel and Britain.

Security for the games will involve 50,000 personnel and cost more than $750 million - an Olympic record. Planning has taken on added urgency following the deadly terrorist bombings in Istanbul, Turkey, late last year.

Floridis, who will be accompanied by Greece's police and intelligence chiefs, also plans to meet Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, as well as officials from the State Department.

"They requested the meetings. ... This is not simply a local security issue. ... Contingencies must be made in case the threat level exceeds our borders," Floridis said.

He added that Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge had expressed interest in visiting Greece, although a visit would need to take place before parliament dissolves in early February for the March 7 general elections. Most government business comes to a halt during the campaign period.

The elections - held two months early - won't affect Olympic planning but could change the timetable of some high-level security meetings, Floridis said.

Associated Press writer Miron Varouhakis contributed to this report.