ATHENS, Greece – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) 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 (search) 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 games.
He discussed the situation on Friday with Greek Foreign Minister Petros Moliviatis (search). Powell said he hopes to travel to Athens in October.
The officials said a contributing factor was the U.N. Security Council's (search) debate this week over the performance of the Sudanese government in carrying out a council resolution last month on Darfur.
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 Friday, 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 said.
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. Embassy.
"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.