Anxious Turkey wonders about delay in Western aid

Turkey, NATO's troubled southern flank, finally has bowed to Western pressure for tough economic measures. Now it is wondering what is holding up indispensable Western aid.

"Our credibility is not exactly at its peak," one American official concedes.

The new government of Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, boosted to power last year by worries over inflation, shortages, unemployment, and political violence, shocked diplomats by announcing tough economic measures weeks later.

Mr. Demirel painted the plan as a make- or-break effort to rescue the economy , stressing that the difference between make or break could well be Western aid.

With Iran in turmoil and Afghanistan under Moscow's thumb, Turkish officials reasoned the Prime Minister had a good case. Western diplomats agree, and say the West is determined to help Turkey.

The question, in Turkish eyes, is whether the aid may turn out to be too little, too late.

There is another domestic problem: Turkish democracy is often more feisty than statesmanlike. Bulent Ecevit, the left-leaning former prime minister, also tried to rescue the economy, if less energetically. He got little help from Mr. Demirel. With the roles now reversed, Mr. Ecevit -- and powerful labor groups -- seem determined to snipe back at the new Prime Minister.

"The new measures, even under the best of circumstances, mean a lot of sacrifices for Turkey," one Western diplomat commented.

"Demirel will be under enormous pressure," he added. "He will need outside help."

All is not bleak, however. West Germany is taking the lead in organizing European aid. The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), grouping the United States, West Europe, Japan, and other industrialized democracies, seems likely to pledge further help for Turkey by the end of next month.

"But," another American diplomat acknowledges, "Demirel is in a race against time."

He has heftily devalued the Turkish lira, a move that should encourage remittances from Turks abroad. He also has lifted price controls, fueling an annual inflation rate already topping 100 percent. And he has moved to overhaul the state sector of the economy, accounting for some 40 percent of Turkey's grossly inefficient industrial output.

Prices promptly jumped. The state-run meat and fish authority, for instance, hiked prices as much as fourfold, threatening what had amounted to a source of subsidized food for Turkey's poor.

In the risky interim, Turkey needs hard currency -- to handle a multibillion-dollar foreign debt; to alleviate shortages of products such as coffee, light bulbs, medicines, and sugar; to buy fuel for this virtually oilless Middle East state, and to purchase other essential raw materials.

Ankara wants at least $1 billion quickly.

Washington provided $150 million in straight economic aid last year, and released $98 million in the pipeline last month. Turkey, expecting to spend $3. 5 billion this year for oil alone, wants more.

Washington plans $200 million in economic aid to Turkey next year. "It's a problem," one US official concedes. "If we wanted to speed things up -- or if President Carter wanted more money on an emergency basis -- the process could take months."

Turkey's main immediate hopes focus on the OECD, which approved nearly $1 billion in credits for Turkey last year. To official dismay here, some of this was tied to specific projects far from completion, and not available for imports or debt financing.

Western diplomats feel the OECD now is ready to back Mr. Demirel's economic package. The question, for Turkish officials, is how generously . . . and how soon.

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