Attack on Turkish tanker puts Ankara in sticky spot
Istanbul — The Iraqi bombing of a Turkish oil tanker in the Persian Gulf has put the Turkish government in an embarrassing position. Although the local press expressed anger over the attack, Ankara protested it only in moderate diplomatic language. Indications are that Ankara considers the matter closed in an effort to avoid damaging its neutral position on the Iran-Iraq war. It also wants to preserve its growing economic ties with Iraq.
Sunday's attack on the 153,000-ton Buyuk Hun near Iran's main oil terminal at Kharg Island came only four days after Prime Minister Turgut Ozal's visit to Baghdad, during which he repeated Turkey's hope for an early end to the 44 -month-old war.
Mr. Ozal failed to persuade the Iraqis to end the war, but did reach a series of agreements strengthening commercial ties. One plan calls for the building of a new oil pipeline to add to Iraq's only existing outlet for oil exports, which also runs through Turkey.
The Turks were upset at Iraq's apparent disregard for Turkey's help, such as keeping the oil pipeline open. Turkey says it will not close the pipeline in retaliation.
The Iraqis made it quite clear during Ozal's visit that they would keep bombing any ''target'' approaching Kharg Island, even those with a Turkish flag.
Turkish Minister of State Mesut Yilmaz said that Turkish shipping companies were warned about the risks of operating in the danger areas of the Gulf. But the manager of the U. M. Shipping Co., which owns the Buyuk Hun, said no restrictions were put on the sailing of Turkish tankers to Kharg.
In fact, another tanker owned by the same company, the Avar, is now on its way to Kharg.
Sunday's attack also put Turkey in a potentially embarrassing position with the Iranians. Iran is a major customer for Turkish exports and Iranian purchases of Turkish goods depend on Turkey's continued oil imports from Iran. If Turkish shipping companies were ordered to stay away from the Gulf, Turkey would not only face an oil shortage, but would also find it difficult to carry out the expected $1 billion exports to Iran this year.