The signing of a new US defense agreement with Turkey appears to mark a major step forward for the strengthening of NATO defenses, but it is not clear whether it will help with the Carter "doctrine" for Persian Gulf defense.
The Turks have apparently declined to commit themselves to American contingency plans for the Gulf. Carter administration plans to build security around the Gulf and its oil supply lines, meanwhile, are moving more slowly than some US officials had hoped they would.
In defending the administration's implementation of the President's January proposal for a "cooperative security framework" in the region, administration officials say that much has been accomplished in the way of making plans more concrete and increasing the American naval, air, and marine forces in the region.
Less has been done, however, in the way of securing access for US military forces to a base in Somalia at Berbera on the Gulf of Aden.
"Negotiations are still going on," said a US official concerning the effort to reach agreement on the use by the US of the naval base and air field at Berbera. "You're dealing with the Middle East, where bargaining is a part of everything."
The official denied that the Somalis have come up with a price for use of the base that is too high for the US to pay. But he said the current US budget squeeze and the complexities of the congressional processes involved in getting approval for military aid to the Somalis had created difficulties.
Iraq, in the meantime, was said to be using "checkbook diplomacy" to try to persuade the Somalis not to tie themselves to the US. An officials said,however , that the Somalis "have not been swayed."
"The Somalis have an interest in having a relationship with us," the official said. "As they see it, just having such a relationship has a deterrent value."
Another administration official added that securing defense cooperation in the Gulf region should not be done on a "crash basis." He said that given the complexities of the region, a "low key" approach was called for. But what the official did not mention was that the Carter administration has a credibility problem in the region. It has a reputation for being unsteady in its judgments and actions, and President Carter's recent repudiation of a US vote at the United Nations against Israeli settlements in occupied Arab territories added to that reputation.
When it comes to shoring up the defenses of Pakistan, another key nation near the Gulf, US officials indicate that Saudi Arabia is to play a leading role. Pakistan had earlier this month rejected a US offer of $400 million in military aid. The amount the Saudis are prepared to give has not been disclosed but is said certainly to be considerably larger than the amount offered by the US.
Some hundreds of miles to the west of the Gulf lies Turkey, a country whose internal turmoil has been of great concern to the United States of late. A new report prepared by two staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee describes Turkey's political situation as "critical."
The new defense agreement between the US and Turkey, which was signed March 29, allows the US to continue operations for five years at more than a dozen joint defense installations and intelligence bases in Turkey.