Some encouraging signs for better US- Greek-Turkish relations, with consequent strengthening of Western defenses and the NATO alliance, are brightening an otherwise cloudy eastern Mediterranean horizon.
The United States and Turkey are expected to sign, on or before March 31, their new defense cooperation agreement initialed in Ankara in January. This paves the way for action by Congress on US help for Turkey's crisis-ridden economy and military forces. Such an aid package was recommended by an authoritative new study of Turkey's problems presented to Congress March 10.
Heartened by the Feb. 22 reciprocal opening, on Turkey's initiative, of the long-closed Aegean Sea air corridors between Greece and Turkey, US defense analysts now say they believe prospects are better for Greece's long- delayed return to the NATO military command.
This hope persists despite recent Greek rejection of the latest proposals for its return by NATO's Supreme Commander, Gen. Bernard W. Rogers.
(Greek Prime Minister Constantine Caramanlis quit the NATO military command when NATO did not react against Turkey's 1974 invasion of Cyprus.That crisis closed the Aegean air corridors and froze Gree-Turkish military, air, and naval relationships, paralyzing NATO command and control channels in Southeastern Europe).
The Monitor has learned that the Greek government recently informed the Carter administration that it wants to negotiate a new Greek-US defense agreement (one initialed in 1976, like a similar US-Turkish accord, was never ratified). But Greece wants first to conclude its return to NATO on satisfactory terms.
The pro-Western Carmanlis government, like the Turkish government of Premier Suleyman Demirel, is committed to fight on the allied side in any world conflict , regardless of NATO command problems. Events in Iran and Afghanistan, and the uncertain situation in Yugoslavia, appear to have strengthened both Greek and Turkish interest in NATO.
However, Greek spokesmen, in their talks with General Rogers and other US and NATO officials, make it clear that US bases in Greece, still governed by a 1956 US-Greek status-of-forces accord, must be placed within the framework of NATO requirements to justify their continued existence. To ensure this, Greece must again become a fully participating NATO partner.
Already, the restoration of normal air traffic between Greece and Turkey, including US and NATO military flights, is saving the US Defense Department and European allies the 300-mile detour south of the island of Crete, or over Communist Bulgaria. This lops millions of dollars off Pentagon and NATO fuel bills each year, US analysts say.
Insiders report the next step in Greek- Turkish detente may be negotiation over military air traffic controls on the Greek islands of Limnos and Samothrace in the northern Aegean. The islands are near the strategic Turkish straits, through which Soviet warships must pass between the Black Sea and the Miditerranean.
Limnos airport has been proposed as a possible staging place for Western reinforcements which might be airlifted eastward into Turkey in an emergency. However, Turkey, accusing Greece of wrongly "militarizing" Limnos and other islands close to Turkey's Aegean coast, has long insisted on curtailing the airspace controlled by the Limnos military air control tower.
Resolution of this dispute would be an important new step in untangling the snarled US-Greek-Turkish command and control arrangements which presently hamper NATO operations.
Turkey's present dilemmas are discussed at length in a new US Congressional Research Service report on Turkey by defense analysts Richard F. Grimmett and Ellen Laipson. The report was prepared for Rep. Lee Hamilton (D) of Indiana, chairman of the House subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, and sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
It notes Turkey's present desperate economic and political straits, its strong reaction to Soviet aggression in Afghanistan, and says: "In time of war, Turkey's participation in three of the four major theaters in NATO's southern region -- eastern Turkey, the Mediterranean, and Greek and Turkish Thrace" -- would be vital.
Dr. Grimmett and Miss Laipson cite US defense officials characterization of US and NATO activities in Turkey -- such as at Incirlik air base and the electronic intelligence-gathering sites which monitor missile tests, communications, and other Soviet military developments -- as "irreplacable" and "critical." The most valuable intelligence these facilities provide is "on Soviet weapons development and Soviet force readiness and movement," they add.
The authors, who answered questions on their study at a congressional seminar March 10, recommend in the study that Congress "consider increases in present levels of military aid" to Turkey, which is inflation-ridden, poor in energy, and burdened with international debts.
They also suggest US technical assistance to Turkish internal security forces fighting terrorism and new security precautions for the large US diplomatic and military community in Turkey, often a target of terrorists.
The report also urges "fresh" US diplomatic initiatives to solve the Cyprus problem and help resolve other greek-Turkish issues. its bottom line is that Turkey's crisis is "the most immediate threat to US interests" and Congress should deal with this urgently. Some of the congressmen who attended the March 10 seminar want strings tied to new US aid to turkey until it evacuates Cyprus.