WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration placed two Greek far-left militants on a terrorism blacklist Tuesday amid concerns that a third could soon be released from prison to serve the remainder of his sentence under house arrest.
The State Department added Christodoulos Xiros and Nikolaos Maziotis to a list that freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdictions. It also prohibits Americans from having any transactions with them.
Xiros was a member of the November 17 group that killed more than 20 people, including Americans, between 1975 and 2000. Maziotis is the leader of Revolutionary Struggle, a group held responsible for a 2007 grenade attack on the U.S. Embassy in Athens.
The designations come as Washington has complained that another November 17 member, Christodoulos Xiros' brother Savvas, may complete the remainder of his five life sentences under home confinement under the terms of new Greek legislation aimed at disabled prisoners.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press Tuesday, said that if Savvas Xiros seeks a change of confinement under the new law, the request would have to be approved by a Greek court. Moreover, Kotzias sought to ease U.S. concerns, telling Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday that Greece would seek U.S. cooperation to obtain technology for a house arrest ankle bracelet.
Savvas Xiros, a member of the Marxist-nationalist November 17 group, lost most of his sight and hearing when a bomb exploded in his hands in 2002. The explosion led to his arrest and the dismantling of the group, which killed 23 people between 1975 and 2000, including U.S., British and Turkish nationals.
Kotzias said the new law was a response to a European court of human rights decision criticizing conditions in Greek prisons.
"So the government, after the decision of the European court of human rights, took the humanitarian decision that people who have an 80 percent disability or more can go to other forms of being prisoners," he said. Savvas Xiros, blind and suffering from multiple sclerosis, is 98 percent disabled, Kotzias said.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said placing Maziotis and Christodoulos Xiros on the blacklist also underscored U.S. concerns about the new law. She said Kerry raised the issue, stressing that those who commit acts of terrorism need to remain incarcerated.
"We'll be watching carefully the implementation of Greece's new law," she said. "I think we'll just see how this all plays out."
In the interview with the AP, Kotzias also addressed another point of tension with the U.S. — Russia's proposal to invest in a gas line into Greece. The 10-year deal would supply Greece with gas at preferential prices and include a cash advance on potential profits.
"Gazprom made us a very good offer," Kotzias said.
Kotzias said Kerry told him the U.S. would be willing to make a counteroffer and said Amos Hochstein, the State Department's special envoy for international energy affairs, would visit Athens within days for talks.
Kotzias characterized the talks over a Gazprom gas line as an economic, not a political consideration.
"I ask all our partners," Kotzias said, "'Please tell me, what do I say to our people that you allow Turkey to bring (a Gazprom gas line) to our borders, but that I'm so anti -Russian that I don't want to do it?" he said.
Gazprom's interest in Greece is part of a larger competition over U.S. efforts to wean Central and Eastern Europe off its reliance on Russian energy. Indeed, as American officials work with European governments on new projects, Russian representatives are often quick to follow with their own proposals.
Regarding his country's last-ditch negotiations with its European creditors, Kotzias said Greece was prepared to compromise.
"Nobody is going to play the chicken game," he said.
Impatience with Greece's far-left government surfaced among European finance ministers in Washington last week for semiannual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
Germany, Spain and other European governments are pushing Greece to agree to more reforms, such as selling more state-owned companies and implementing rules making it easier for companies to hire and fire employees. They want Greece to agree to such steps before releasing a $7.2 billion installment of bailout loans.
Kotzias argued that European officials should respect his government's election in January on an anti-austerity platform.
"After five years (of austerity), we have had very bad results," he said.
AP economics writer Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.