wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy  Privacy
IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08ATHENS273 2008-02-26 16:40:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Athens
Cable title:  

CONSTRUCTION BEGINS IN ANCIENT JEWISH CEMETERY

Tags:   PGOV PREL SOCI KIRF GR 
pdf how-to read a cable


1. (C) Notwithstanding our long-standing advice to the
contrary and assurances from the GOG to consult with us and
the Thessaloniki Jewish Community, Greece has begun
construction for a metro station in Thessaloniki in an area
that falls within the ancient Jewish Cemetery. Ambassador
Speckhard and DCM have separately underscored U.S. concerns
with MFA Secretary General Agathocles. The Ambassador said
we were surprised and disappointed that work had started on
the project which has been the center of lengthy discussions
between our two governments. Most significantly, we had
understood that the GOG would consult closely with the Jewish
Community of Thessaloniki -- who had been taken as much by
surprise as the U.S. The Ambassador requested that the work
stop until the issue was resolved. Agathocles responded that
the GOG had determined it was "technically impossible" to
change plans to move the metro entrance (which is within the
ancient cemetery boundaries), and said the work could not
stop. The GOG believes the dig will not disturb the cemetery
and will invite a representative of the Jewish community to
be present, and if they find any "problems" they will
immediately stop work. Ambassador Speckhard met later with
Agathocles to underscore the seriousness of the issue and to
request that the GOG reach out "now" to the Jewish Community.
Agathocles said the GOG would do so. End Summary.



2. (C) On February 26, Ambassador Speckhard spoke with MFA
Secretary General (SecGen) Agathocles immediately after

SIPDIS
receiving reports that construction had begun in Thessaloniki
within the area identified as belonging to the ancient Jewish
cemetery. We have had a long dialogue with the MFA
reflecting the concerns of American and local NGOs that
construction of a metro station in the area of the cemetery
was troubling. Throughout our conversations, Agathocles
assured U.S. interlocutors that the MFA would closely monitor
all developments of the construction project and keep us
advised as to any developments. We specifically requested
consideration of moving the proposed entrance of the metro
station to the opposite side of the street to steer clear of
the cemetery; Agathocles had agreed that the GoG would
consider that proposal.



3. (C) When asked what had happened, Agathocles said that the
GoG determined it was "technically impossible" to change the
plans. Per Agathocles, the area of the cemetery cannot be
by-passed because it will be the main station near the
University, and the GoG cannot move the entrance to the other
side of the street because it would require taking down two
buildings or removing thirty percent of the street.
Agathocles said that the GoG does not believe that the
digging will disturb the cemetery, and added that the GoG
would welcome a representative of the Jewish community being
present 24/7 to monitor digging. He concluded by assuring
the Ambassador that if, at any point, the GoG determines that
there are remains where they are working, then work would
stop immediately. He said, however, that the GoG was "nearly
100 percent convinced" that this will not be the case.



4. (C) Ambassador Speckhard said we were "shocked and
surprised" by the fact that the GoG had taken action on an
issue that had been the subject of several sensitive
conversations without any prior notice to the Jewish
community in Thessaloniki or the Embassy. More
significantly, we had understood that the GoG would consult
closely with the Jewish community of Thessaloniki on this
matter, and its leadership had been taken by surprise as
well. We do not believe it advisable for the GoG to start
digging and then make adjustments on the basis of what is
found. Greece, in particular, should be sensitive to the
cultural issues surrounding digging for public projects. He
told Agathocles that we do not accept the response that it is
technically impossible to alter the plans. The Ambassador
asked Agathocles for the work to cease until the issue could
be resolved.



5. (C) Agathocles responded that he could not stop the work.
Work needed to proceed to avoid financial penalties. He
conceded that while technical adjustments to the project were
still "theoretically possible," he explained that the cost
was prohibitive and suggested that it could run as high as 20
million dollars and require knocking down two buildings to
place the metro entrance on the other side of the street
(Note: We understand that there might be other,
significantly less costly options, that were also feasible.
End Note.) Agathocles stressed that the GoG believed it was
doing everything it could to work with the Jewish community

ATHENS 00000273 002 OF 002


of Thessaloniki and that it was an acceptable solution to
have a member of that community present for the excavation.
Ambassador Speckhard reiterated it was a mistake to move
ahead with construction without resolving this issue with the
Jewish community. He said that he believed adjustments were
still possible and that they could and should be made to
ensure that there was no disturbance to the historic cemetery.



6. (C) In a later 2/26 meeting with Agathocles, Ambassador
Speckhard reiterated our concerns, and emphasized the
importance of keeping the Jewish community of Thessaloniki
informed and involved in the GoG's activities. Agathocles
said that Deputy Foreign Minister Kassimis will be in touch
with representatives of the community tomorrow.
SPECKHARD