If EC Won't Dance, Turkey Will Seek Other Partners

AS a possible alternative to a partnership with the European Community, Turkey is seeking economic and political ties with the United States and neighboring regional countries. These efforts follow disappointment in Ankara over the EC's attitude toward Turkey's application for full membership.

The administration of Prime Minister Turgut Ozal seems to have lost hope that the EC will favorably consider Turkey's request. Officials here say they recognize that the EC's priorities have changed and that some East European countries stand a better chance than Turkey of being admitted in the near future. The EC's favorable attitude on Cyprus's application, strongly opposed by Turkey, has increased the disillusionment.

EC membership remains one of the country's major foreign policy objectives for two reasons: Economically, more than 40 percent of Turkey's foreign trade is with the EC; politically, the Turks have a strong desire to be part of Europe.

But as chances for joining the EC in the early 1990s appear to diminish, the Turkish government is seeking ways of establishing ``other relationships'' that would supplement, if not fully replace, such ties. For example:

Mr. Ozal has formally proposed during his recent visit to Washington conclusion of a free-trade agreement with the US, similar to those the US has with Canada, Mexico, and Israel. President Bush has promised that the idea will be carefully studied. He also declared his commitment to lift quotas on Turkish textile imports as a step to promote closer trade ties.

Observers find it too soon to say whether such an agreement is feasible, but they note that, if this came about, Turkey would have to give up its application to the EC. EC rules do not allow such a partnership with the US by any member country.

``If a free-trade agreement is possible with the US, we will prefer that to the EC,'' says Gunes Taner, the minister of state in charge of foreign economic relations.

Some observers believe that Ozal's move may be aimed at sending a signal to the Europeans about Turkey's growing impatience over their attitude.

Turkey has initiated a project for the creation of a ``Black Sea cooperation system,'' including the Soviet Union, Romania, and Bulgaria. Top officials from these countries will meet in Ankara next month to discuss the project in detail.

Ozal recently discussed the idea with the presidents of Romania and Bulgaria and with the Soviet foreign minister.

Ozal wants to begin investments, construction work, and even joint ventures with the East European countries. Turkish trade with those countries, and particularly with the Soviet Union, has increased significantly since last year. Earlier this month, the Soviet and Turkish governments agreed to raise the trade volume from the present $1.5 billion level to $4 billion.

The Soviet reaction to the Black Sea cooperation project has been quite favorable and the Turks expect that the basic agreement might be concluded next year.

Turkey is also promoting the idea of a ``Balkan cooperation zone,'' which would include Yugoslavia, Albania, Romania, and Bulgaria. That initiative would pressure Greece to change its hostile attitude toward Turkey, according to Turkish officials. Ozal has recently met leaders of Yugoslavia and Albania. The foreign ministers of all these countries are meeting in Tirana, Albania, later this week.

Turkey has been working to arrange for closer ties with Middle East and Islamic countries. Ozal has just returned from a visit to five Middle East countries. And the standing committee for economic and commercial cooperation of the Organization of Islamic Conference held its annual meeting here last week and served as a platform for Turkish efforts to promote closer ties.

As a senior government official sums it up: ``The world does not consist only of Europe or the EC. There are many regions and many opportunities. With its geopolitical position, which is now regaining importance, Turkey has several cards to play.''

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