199. Memorandum From Harold Saunders and Henry Applebaum of the National Security Council Staff to Secretary of State Kissinger1


  • Turkish Opium
[Page 658]

The purpose of this memo is to call your attention to the question of opium production in Turkey, an issue that may come to a head both within the USG and with the Turks during the next few weeks.

The new Turkish government has indicated to Ambassador Macomber USG to reexamine Turkey’s ban on opium production. You will recall that the Turks imposed the ban in 1971 as a result of considerable USG pressure. The US agreed to grant Turkey $35.7 million to compensate and assist the roughly 70,000 farmers who had been earning all or part of their livelihood from opium cultivation.

The ban has never been popular in Turkey, either among the farmers themselves or among Turkish nationalists who feel that the ban was imposed by the USG and that it serves US rather than Turkish interests. During Turkey’s election campaign last fall all political parties expressed dissatisfaction with the ban.

It is not clear yet just what the new government—a coalition of moderate leftists and right-wing nationalists—is going to do with regard to the ban. There is a good chance that they will ask us for more financial support as a condition for the ban’s continuation. If this happens, the issue for us will be whether we should (a) refuse either to give more financial assistance or to acquiesce in resumption of production,

An additional factor which may help bring the issue to a head soon is this month’s international narcotics conference in Geneva. The USG positions that have been developed for this conference include the view that a worldwide opium shortage may be developing which (1) would have to be met through expanded Indian production and (2) necessitates USG domestic research and testing of opium straw production, in the hope of finding methods that will bring higher yields while also being susceptible to better controls than those that are possible under present opium-growing practices. The Turks have already informed us that these US positions will inevitably stimulate increased pressure within Turkey for resumption of opium production there.

Of the three USG options mentioned above, the first one—a completely negative response to the Turks—would substantially strain our overall relations with the new Turkish government and could lead them simply to resume opium production unilaterally, with or without controls. The second option—agreeing to pay further compensation— could lead us into what the Turks would view as an open-ended commitment to keep paying them off indefinitely for maintaining the ban.

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Moreover, it is not clear that they could put more aid money to good use. A substantial part of the $35.7 million we granted them in 1971 still has not been used.

The third option—agreeing to their resuming production under carefully controlled conditions—has some pros and cons. We do not know yet whether they could in fact set up a well-controlled production system, although they believe they could. Moreover, this type of production, which presumably would have to be on state farms, would not really take care of the peasant farmers who before 1971 were earning money by growing opium on their own private plots along with their other crops. On the other hand, controlled state production would at least partially assuage the demands of nationalists who oppose the ban. Resuming Turkish production with controls would also be more consistent with our belief in a probable worldwide shortage than would a continued Turkish ban. Finally, resuming production with controls would free us from an endless chain of Turkish demands for financial compensation.

On the other hand, it might be advisable to start off with a tough stance that we could soften later on. Ambassador Macomber advocates such an approach.

This problem will probably be thrashed out in greater detail by various interested USG agencies in the weeks ahead. Related to the Turkish problem are (a) Ambassador (to Thailand) Kintner’s belief that US domestic testing of opium straw production will cause us considerable difficulty with the Thais, and (b) Indian unhappiness over US advocacy at Geneva of a worldwide shift from opium gum to opium straw production; the Indians are skeptical about our contention that such a shift would in fact lead to higher yields and better controls. This memo has focused on the Turkish problem because that is the one that carries the greatest danger of seriously hurting our overall relations with an important ally. We do not seek any decisions from you at this point but simply want to call these developing issues to your attention.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 634, Country Files, Middle East, Turkey, Vol. IV. Secret. Sent for information. Concurred in by Horan and Froebe of the NSC staff.