454. Memorandum for the Presidentʼs File1


  • Meeting between President Nixon and Prime Minister Nihat Erim of Turkey


  • President Nixon
  • Prime Minister Nihat Erim
  • Mr. Celal Akbay (Director General of the Department of Research and Policy Planning of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Turkey)
  • Major General Alexander M. Haig, Jr.

The meeting opened with the press photographs.

President Nixon then began the conversation by expressing his pleasure that the Prime Ministerʼs visit could be arranged. The meeting was especially significant, the President added, coming as it did between his Peking and Soviet trips.2

The President noted the difficulties which Turkeyʼs extended border with unfriendly and potentially unfriendly powers involved. He stated that he would visit Turkey at some time in the future. Turkey had always been a great ally of the United States and a loyal and important member of the NATO Alliance. He noted that this was near the first anniversary of the Prime Ministerʼs tenure.

Prime Minister Erim wished to touch upon the internal situation in Turkey. A kind of subtle subversion, which remained active and virulent, was the main issue for his Premiership. While external intimidation could not succeed because of Turkeyʼs strong NATO ties, subversion did—as it did in Czechoslovakia—present a serious threat to his countryʼs viability. On 9 March 1971, there had been a systematic effort to overthrow the forces of stability and democracy in Turkey. There were attempts at assassination and kidnapping, with the activity and leadership coming from the universities and even the high schools. It was at this time that the Armed Forces of Turkey took over and asked the Prime Minister to govern. Shortly thereafter, the Israeli Consul General was murdered, banks were being robbed at the rate of one a week, and political kidnapping continued. For this reason, martial law had to be adopted in six of Turkeyʼs regions.

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Since that time, the situation had improved but it was still dangerous. Subversion continued.

The Prime Minister emphasized that he was strongly in favor of democratic processes in Turkey. For this reason, he was frequently criticized as being too soft on extremist elements. Nevertheless, he remained determined to abide by the Constitution which provides for a Parliament and independent judiciary. The situation in Turkey did not draw its virulence from internal sources but was rather fed from abroad; there was a large Turkish “liberation movement” based in Stockholm, and activity also in East and West Germany. There were, in fact, some 500,000 Turkish citizens working in the Germanies.

President Nixon noted that they were valuable workers in labor-shortage areas. The Prime Minister agreed, but noted that they were also targets for subversion. There was even a subversive center among Turkish nationals in Palestine. The question was, who is behind it? While irrefutable evidence was lacking, logic could only suggest that it was supported by powers who wished to weaken Turkey and NATO. Last yearʼs demonstrations against the Sixth Fleet were all the results of the leadership of international communism. Just this past week, 58 young officers were arrested due to their involvement in subversive activity. It was not simply a manifestation of youthful revolutionaries who have been captured by the philosophies of Mao, Marx or Guevara. The virulence of the movement and its tactics suggested a far more sophisticated guiding hand.

For this reason, the Prime Minister continued, he was attempting to modernize Turkeyʼs military forces. The morale of the military was essential to Turkeyʼs stability, and a collapse of the military would be fatal. Nikita Khrushchev had long held that Communist takeovers would not be by direct military means but by the victory of internal Socialist forces. France and other countries had the same problem, and the main challenge for the West today was to disrupt these subversive efforts. Unfortunately, many of Turkeyʼs friends did not grasp the seriousness of the problem. Within Turkey proper, the forces for democracy were timid and self-conscious, while the Marxists were militant and aggressive. The major force for stability remained the senior military.

President Nixon asked what the Prime Minister thought of the policies of the Greek Colonels. The Prime Minister replied that in his view Turkeyʼs way was the right way. A military dictatorship had no long term viability and more often than not resulted in feuding among the military, with increasing risks of instability. The Turkish military was professional. It kept out of politics to the degree that this was possible. The Junta route was unstable.

Prime Minister Erim continued that Turkey, in addition to its subversion problem, was troubled by economic problems. Population [Page 1113] growth had been extremely high, and the territories bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria were backward and underdeveloped. Turkeyʼs five-year plan was an effort to raise the standard of living, but much remained to be done. Turkey had even had to export laborers to foreign markets because of her rampant unemployment. Therefore the economic assistance of the United States was vital. This was not a plea for cash or credit, but primarily for investment and above all, know-how. For example, the discontinuation of the poppy crop was best compensated for not by cash but by new techniques for substitute crops. Turkeyʼs program was now going well in this area.

President Nixon stated that the United States wanted to be as helpful as possible because it was most grateful to the Prime Minister and the Turkish people for their enlightened approach to this international problem.

The Prime Minister stated that he had been subjected to much criticism because of his decision on poppies. Nevertheless, it was a sound decision. On the 6th of March 1971, the Prime Minister read of the difficulties the American youth and society in general were having. Based on this appreciation, he barred opium and had now adopted a program of compensation for the farmers. The difficulty was that the farmers were demanding more in the way of compensation than they had ever received from the illicit traffic. Nevertheless, Turkey would succeed with this program. Another economic development program of great significance to Turkey, the Prime Minister continued, was the U.S. road mission of 1947, which had really established the basis for Turkeyʼs internal road network. Similar assistance in the agricultural area would be a great legacy for the United States. Careful analysis confirmed that the military situation and security situation were closely linked with economic viability, and when the young military saw that the country was growing and prospering, its morale was high and its loyalty unquestioning. Nevertheless, the task ahead was severe. It would not be until 1995 that Turkey could hope to achieve the level of individual income of Italy today. Turkey would not be a full member of the European Economic Community until 1995. The Prime Minister mentioned that he would see the World Bank President, Mr. McNamara, tomorrow morning and would impress upon him Turkeyʼs need for investment, not charity.3

President Nixon expressed his appreciation for the Prime Ministerʼs analysis. It was insufficient merely to look at surface problems. The realities of Turkeyʼs economic situation must be understood. The President then directed General Haig to contact Mr. McNamara and [Page 1114] urge him to take a most sympathetic view of Turkeyʼs problem. He instructed General Haig to contact Secretary Connally and be sure that Secretary Connally or Mr. Volcker spent 15 minutes with the Prime Minister in an effort to better understand his problems and be of assistance. In addition, General Haig was to contact Dr. Hannah of AID to be sure that Dr. Hannah contacted a member of the Prime Ministerʼs Delegation to outline what additional specific steps could be taken in the agricultural area to assist Turkey.4

The President pointed out that the current mood of the U.S. Congress was one of isolation. For example, the FY 1972 grant military aid package for Turkey had been cut from $100 million to $60 million. The President was now seeking to restore this cut or to find other means of compensating for the Congressional action. The United States was interested in Turkey not only because of its key NATO role but because of the importance of Turkeyʼs internal stability. Military assistance was important, but so was economic assistance and technical advice, as well as support from international lending bodies. The United States was prepared to give all possible help along this broad front.

The President then said he would like to turn from specific problems to more general ones. The world was in a very dangerous period. The non-Communist world panted for peace. False euphoria could result from Presidential trips to Moscow and Peking. Nevertheless, these trips were being undertaken without any illusions about Chinese or Soviet policies and goals. It was significant that the PRC in the communiqué did not omit the Chinese intention to support revolutionary movements.5 For this reason, the United States and the free world had to talk from strength. The NATO Alliance was as important as ever. The threat of subversion continued worldwide.

The critical question of modern times, the President said, was how the free world was to deal with détente. Free peoples derived hope from détente, and at such a time their fears diminished and unity consequently suffered. This was the phenomenon with which the free world must cope during periods of détente. Both the Prime Minister and the President obviously were aware of this problem, and the Prime Minister could be assured that when the United States President spoke with the Soviet leadership it would be with the full realization of this reality. [Page 1115] There were no illusions. Regardless of what agreements were arrived at, the Socialist camp has not abandoned its objective to take over through “peaceful means.” It was no longer wisdom to confront this phenomenon, but our guard must remain strong and our economic base must be strengthened. The Soviets also had their problems. Eastern Europe was unsettled. The Soviets also worried about their flank with China, and the Soviets were uncomfortable with the U.S. initiative.

The U.S. policy was a deliberate one, the President emphasized. It sought good relations with both Moscow and Peking—not to concert with one against the other, but to maintain an even-handed approach with both. This was the cornerstone of United States policy. It must be based on real friendship between all peoples with similar philosophies. It must also be guided by self-interest, and it was obvious that similar philosophies generated mutuality of interest which could not be abandoned in search of improved relationships with potential enemies. Similar philosophies permitted a greater cooperation and trust. Therefore, Turkey must understand that the discussions with the Chinese and Soviet leaders would not be conducted at the expense of old and trusted friends. That was why the Prime Ministerʼs visit to the United States between the two summits was so important. Turkey had been a staunch friend. It had stayed the hard course despite insurmountable odds. As long as the current leadership was in Washington, this would be the United States policy.

The Prime Minister called the Presidentʼs China visit a masterful diplomatic stroke. He had heard President Nixonʼs voice at the time the announcement was made,6 when the President stated that America could no longer ignore 800 million Chinese. The Soviet Ambassador in Turkey was shaken by the announcement. But the Prime Minister knew precisely what President Nixon was doing. Turkey also knew that the United States could not let Turkey go Marxist. Turkey thought of itself as a “firewall” for the free world. It recognized that the United States could not lose this bastion. For this reason, Turkey was resolved to stay with the West but Turkey also needed military, economic, moral and social defenses. It had to overcome the danger of subversion or the free world would be faced with a fait accompli. The Turkish military now supported the Prime Minister, but there was strong propaganda seeking to overthrow the status quo. Thus, Turkey needed help, and all of its friends must be aware of Turkeyʼs problems.

It was nothing less than a war—a moral war and not one with guns—but the need for concerted action was just as strong, the Prime [Page 1116] Minister emphasized. The Soviets might agree to strategic arms limitations but they still sought the moral erosion of the free world. Germany was one of the Sovietsʼ main targets, for it was an historic dagger pointed at the Soviet heart. The Turkish military were particularly concerned about Bulgarian armored divisions equipped with tanks with a range of 430 kilometers. The Turkish tanks provided by the United States could travel only 170 kilometers without refueling, and it took an armored division 10 hours to refuel. Thus, the Turkish military wanted longer range tanks. Iraq and Syria were also being equipped with modern Soviet armaments. The United States must not let the military assistance program lag.

President Nixon instructed General Haig to prepare a completely frank report on the relative capabilities of United States and Soviet-supplied armament.7

Prime Minister Erim noted that Communist propaganda maintained that the United States would not defend Turkey but would rather use Turkish blood to gain time. Turkey had structural problems with F–84 aircraft, and the Turkish military now wanted Phantoms. They were urging the Prime Minister to buy French Mysteres and Mirages if the United States sources was not forthcoming. Communist propaganda highlighted the obsolescence of Turkish military equipment. President Nixon commented that it was a standard line for the Communists to maintain that Turkey was a vassal of the United States.

The conversation then turned to Cyprus. Prime Minister Erim stated that Turkey was not seeking partition or a new solution. Turkey signed an agreement which it wanted respected. The new Greek Government was more enlightened on the problem, and Papadopoulos was anxious for good relations with Turkey. Good relations between Turkey and Greece strengthened NATO. Nevertheless, even though Cyprus was a small island, in 1959 and 1960 a mixed rule had been agreed to with mixed leadership and a mixed legislature.8 This was a good solution, for Makarios, who was little more than an 18th century chauvinist, had sought to upset the agreements. The Prime Minister had asked Secretary Rogers on his visit to Turkey to urge restraint on Makarios. The Archbishop had been the subject of Soviet flirtations; most recently, Czechoslovakian arms had been shipped to Cyprus. They fished in troubled waters.

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Compromise was the best answer today, the Prime Minister felt. Makarios and the Greeks were at odds, and the Greek Religious Council was after Makarios. Turkey tried to keep out of the quarrel, but now was the time to push Makarios to make a settlement. Turkey wanted nothing new but merely implementation of existing agreements. What was required was a just solution. The Prime Minister had raised this with Vice President Agnew and had asked the Vice President to express Turkeyʼs views to the Greeks. The Vice President had made a fine impression in Ankara.

President Nixon pointed out that the United States had been trying to keep out of the internal affairs of Cyprus, although it was obvious that our interests converged. The problem was that we could not permit the Soviets to exploit this issue. The Prime Minister noted that 35% of the Cypriot vote was Marxist.

The Prime Minister then turned to the question of the Soviet fleet and the Straits. President Nixon remarked that the Soviets were not building their presence in the Mediterranean just to look at the beauties of Cairo. They wanted increased presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Therefore the United States was maintaining a strong fleet presence of its own and resisting Soviet penetration. Certainly the Middle East crisis was far bigger than a dispute between the Arabs and Israelis. The stakes were the entire Mediterranean, Turkey and Africa. For this reason, we could not allow Soviet domination of the eastern Mediterranean.

The Prime Minister said that the Government of Turkey proclaimed a good-neighbor policy but this could be viable only so long as Turkey remained strong. For this reason the joint communiqué published in conjunction with this visit9 should include a strong declaration for Turkish independence, territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs. In 1947 it was the Truman Doctrine which saved Turkey. President Nixon said that he had voted for this policy. Dean Acheson, the President noted, had been the author of the so-called Truman Doctrine. Prime Minister Erim said that President Johnson had departed from it.

The Prime Minister mentioned that he had been a drafter of the Cypriot Constitution.

The Prime Minister then told the President that Pakistanʼs President Bhutto had visited Ankara recently. The Prime Minister had asked Bhutto about his attitude towards CENTO. Bhuttoʼs reply was that it depended on the United States. President Nixon instructed General Haig to be sure that President Bhutto was aware of our support. He had just reiterated this support to the new Secretary-General of [Page 1118] CENTO. The President added that CENTO was no longer a purely military organization but it was no less important because of its symbolic significance.

The Prime Minister informed the President that Turkey would recognize Bangladesh in April. President Nixon replied that the United States would also recognize Bangladesh after Indian troops had left its territory. Bangladesh, the Prime Minister pointed out, was now the largest Muslim country in the world. The President felt that the policies of Turkey and the United States were parallel with respect to Pakistan. During the recent crisis in South Asia, U.S. policy had saved West Pakistan.

Prime Minister Erim stated that he would see Soviet President Podgorny in April and that Podgorny would wish to proclaim a good-neighbor policy and non-aggression treaty. Turkey, however, would reply that as a member of NATO it would not enter into unilateral arrangements with the Soviet Union. Despite this, the Soviets would probably continue, as in the past, to press Turkey for a non-aggression pact. Failing that, they would press for a consultation arrangement, but here again Turkey could not check each of its moves with the Soviet Union. Turkey would stay within the Alliance framework and merely accept a good-neighbor statement. President Nixon thought this an excellent strategy. It was important that Turkey did not permit the Soviets to pick off an essential ingredient of the NATO flank.

As the meeting drew to a close, the President said that the two leaders could continue their discussion at the State dinner that evening. The Prime Minister thanked President Nixon for his hospitality, and said he had drawn great comfort from his discussions with the President. The President stated that this indeed was the right time for a visit from the Prime Minister. He reassured him that the United States was in Turkeyʼs corner and would do all it can. The Prime Minister said that Turkey must be strong and bright like a star. This was the Prime Ministerʼs goal, and for this Turkey needed the understanding of the United States. President Nixon stated that U.S. understanding would not come from compassion but self-interest. This was the underlying reality of continuing U.S.-Turkish cooperation.10

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 938, VIP Visits, Turkey, Turkey Prime Minister Erim, March 21, 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Haig. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Erim made an official visit to the United States March 21–22. Briefing papers for the President concerning the visit are ibid.
  2. The President visited China February 18–27 and the Soviet Union May 22–30.
  3. No record of this meeting was found.
  4. In a March 21 memorandum to the President, Haig reported he had talked to McNamara who stated he would give his full support to Turkeyʼs economic requests and also had contacted Hannah who would contact the Turkish Agriculture Minister. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 938, VIP Visits, Turkey, Turkey Prime Minister Erim, March 21, 1972)
  5. For text of the February 27 communiqué, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 376–379.
  6. For text of the Presidentʼs July 15, 1971, announcement, see ibid., 1971, pp. 819–820.
  7. No report was found. In a March 27 memorandum to the President, Haig reported that a study was underway. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 633, Country Files, Middle East, Turkey, Vol. III Jan 72–Dec 73)
  8. Reference is to the London Accords of February 1959; see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1959, pp. 765–775.
  9. The Joint Statement, March 22, is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents: Nixon, 1972, pp. 460–461.
  10. Turkish Foreign Minister Bayulken held a simultaneous meeting with Rogers in the Cabinet Room at the White House. Accounts of their discussions are in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 TUR.