BC's Man in Athens Is a Hometown Guy

BC's Man in Athens Is a Hometown Guy

Burns enjoys Greek post, but no, he still hasn't forgiven Roger Clemens

US Ambassador to Greece Nicholas Burns, `78, speaks during a dinner held in his honor in the Fulton Hall Atrium last Friday.

He almost created an international incident by denouncing former Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens. He has been targeted for death by a shadowy Greek terrorist group. So don't expect US Ambassador to Greece Nicholas Burns, '78, to describe diplomacy as a dull profession.

Burns discussed his colorful career and a host of other subjects during a visit to the Boston College campus last Friday. The ambassador spoke to honors students and attended a reception in the Jenks Honors Library, and was guest of honor at a dinner hosted by University President William P. Leahy, SJ.

"It's great to come back here," said Burns in a brief interview. "BC had such an impact on my education and my view of the world. There have always been such wonderful faculty here, who can help you understand that life is more than the pursuit of wealth and ambition."

His appointment by President Clinton in 1997 landed Burns in one of the world's most notorious diplomatic hot spots. Last year, Burns and other American officials pressed Greece to take action against the terrorist group November 17, which in its 25 years of existence has committed intermittent acts of murder and violence against diplomats or others with ties to Western nations. It was revealed that Burns' name was on a "hit list" of Americans published by the group.

"The Greek government is trying to mount a major effort to locate the group and finally bring its members to justice," said Burns, noting that the US spends more on security in Athens than anywhere else in the world. "For diplomats like myself, it means you have to take extra precautions: I travel with five bodyguards. That's just part of the risk you take when you choose this line of work."

Burns' other notable exploit as ambassador is his attempt to transplant America's national pastime into the cradle of Western Civilization. He is helping coordinate efforts to develop a Greek national baseball team in time for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

"It's my favorite program," he said. "I really think we can do it. We're getting a lot of cooperation from Major League Baseball."

As a native of Wellesley and a stalwart member of Red Sox Nation, Burns wears his love for baseball on his diplomatic sleeve. While working as a State Department spokesman in 1996, he criticized Roger Clemens for leaving the Sox to sign with Toronto, quipping that the department officially considered the pitcher a traitor. When two Canadian journalists took him seriously, Burns had to issue an explanation.

"He's still a traitor," declared Burns, when asked about Clemens, who left Canada only to don Yankee pinstripes. "He left our beloved Bosox in ignoble fashion. He'll never be forgiven."

-Sean Smith


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