Turkey rebuilding bridges to NATO -- and defenses
Turkey, a close neighbor of the Soviet Union and Iran, is stepping up efforts to help consolidate the Western alliance. For example: * In January, on the heels of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Turks initialed an accord formally renewing United States rights to important air and intelligence-gathering bases in this country.Skip to next paragraph
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* In a suprise move Feb. 23, Turkey unilaterally rescinded its 1974 closure of adjacent Aegean Sea airspace. Greece reciprocated, providing the first hope -- however cautious and conditional -- of detente between these two feuding NATO neighbors.
Problems remain, particularly in resolving the longstanding feud between Turkey and Greece. The Greeks pulled out of NATO's military wing over Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus, and their reentry has been blocked by continuing enmity with Ankara.
The reopening of commercial air corridors, alone, will not resolve that enmity, but it at least seems a step in the right direction.
Progress on the US base accord has been far more encouraging. Turkey formally closed major US intellegence facilities in 1975, reacting to an American arms embargo imposed after the Cyprus invasion. Those bases, one US official maintains, are "not indispensable" in an era of satellite spying. But they are important, especially with the emergence of an Iranian regime that is not exactly enamored of Washington.
"And the bases are very important politically," the official declared.
They were reopened on a provisional basis in 1978, when Washington lifted the embargo. In the 14 intervening months, US officials had been seeking, without much visible success, a more solid accord on the military facilities.
Then, on Jan. 10, sooner than many analysts here had expected, an accord was initialed. US and Turkish negotiators hope to work out a few remaining side issues and complete translation of the lengthy agreement by the end of February.
All may not be smooth sailing from here, however. It remains unclear whether Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel will have to take the accord to Parliament before it can be activated by an exchange of notes between Washington and Ankara.
If he does, the feisty partisanship of Turkish democracy would seem to guarantee a tough debate -- even though opposition leader Bulent Ecevit, who resigned the premiership last year after an electoral setback, was instrumental in drawing up the present accord.
Turkish politicians maintain that Mr. Demirel is virtually assured of the votes for passage, in turn assuring Washington of a steadier umbrella for access to the bases.
Thesee include the Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, intelligence facilities at Pirinclik, Belbasi, and at Sinop across the Black Sea from the Soviet Union, plus a number of auxiliary bases.
The more cynical of local political analysts -- as well as opposition politician -- link Mr. Demirel's agreement on the bases and his government's good-will gesture toward Greece to his energetic campaign for hunddreds of millions of dollars in Western economic aid.
Senior diplomatic agree that Turkey's desire and urgent need for aid is one factor, but hardly the most important. Washington's escalated push for a new base accord, and Turkey's response, are seen as a direct result of mounting regional unrest. So is the Turkish move on Aegean air access.
Turkish political analysts confirm that the country's military leaders, in particular, are alarmed by Soviet moves in Afghanistan and by unrest next door in Iran. Exacerbating the armed forces' concern is political violence at home, where 20 of Turkey's 67 provinces now are under martial law.
The country's fundamentally pro-NATO generals "feel they have enough problems without worrying about Moscow, Afghanisstan, and Iran," one diplomat comments. "They, and Mr. Demirel, feel it is time to put things in order with their Western allies. The West, needless to say, agrees.
The operational implications of a reinforced alliance are less clear. Turkey , reflecting a clear Middle East trend, is reluctant to tie itself too tightly or too openly to Washington.