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Turkey drags feet on military bases deal. Says US breaches treaty obligations on military and economic aid

By George D. Moffett IIIStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 22, 1987



Washington

With the ink barely dry, an agreement considered key to American interests in the Mediterranean appears to be in limbo. Saying the United States has failed to fulfill its treaty obligations, Turkey has deferred ratification of an agreement that extends US access to bases comprising key links in NATO's chain of defenses.

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Turkey's protest is largely symbolic, some diplomatic observers say. But at a time when affairs along NATO's important ``southern flank'' are in some disarray, any new complications are a source of concern to the Reagan administration.

Among the five countries that anchor NATO in the south, Spain and Greece are threatening to expel US bases, while the governments in Portugal and Italy are in a state of flux. Meanwhile, the Soviets are adding to their military strength in the Mediterranean.

In this context, experts say, the implications of Turkey's decision to defer the extension loom larger.

``The general situation in the Mediterranean is being seriously threatened, because all five governments in the region are questioning the value of continued close strategic relations with the United States,'' says Jed Snyder, a NATO specialist at the Hudson Institute in Alexandria, Va.

Last month, the US and Turkey signed a letter extending until 1990 a defense and economic cooperation agreement that gives the US access to military bases and other defense facilities in Turkey. In return, the US pledged its best efforts to sustain high levels of military and economic aid to Turkey, already the third-largest recipient of US foreign assistance after Israel and Egypt.

The Reagan administration has asked Congress for more than $900 million in combined military and economic aid for Turkey next year, up nearly $200 million from the current year.

But Congress has balked. Given Gramm-Rudman budget pressures and a strong Greek lobby in Congress, the aid package faces deep cuts. Meanwhile, Turkish sources say, Congress has added insult to injury by tacking on key restrictions, including a prohibition on channeling any US aid to Turkish forces that occupy divided northern Cyprus.

Administration officials have also been unable to persuade Congress to scrap a formula that guarantees Greece $7 for every $10 in US military assistance given to Turkey.

Turkish officials say the aid cuts and other restrictions violate the spirit, if not the actual letter, of the bases agreement.

``US obligations are very cavalierly treated by the US Congress,'' says Sukru Elekdag, Turkey's ambassador to the US.

Privately, Turkish sources fault the administration for failing to duplicate on behalf of Turkey the kind of intensive behind-the-scenes lobbying effort mounted in support of aid to Pakistan or the sale of surveillance aircraft to Saudi Arabia several years ago.

``I think frankly we've got our heads in the sand,'' one US official says of congressional action on the Turkey aid request.

He notes that Turkey, which defends one-third of the entire East-West frontier, has been the unsung bulwark of NATO.

But diplomatic observers say that, by aiming at the most pro-Turkish administration in a quarter century, Turkish officials have chosen the wrong target.

A congressional source explains that Turkey's President Turgot Ozal, who is seeking reelection next year, is under pressure from members of his own ruling coalition who say that, with the prospective aid cuts, Turkey is getting the short end of the bases deal with the US.

But another congressional source, referring to budget restrictions that have affected all US foreign-aid recipients, says that ``Ozal will have to realize that Turkey will not get a better deal than it's getting right now.''

Turkey says it will not ratify the extension until Congress makes a final decision on the aid package. Until then, Ambassador Elekdag says, Turkey will continue to abide by the original 1980 defense agreement on a year-to-year basis.