67. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • US
  • The Secretary
  • Under Secretary Habib
  • Ambassador Bennett
  • Mr. Laingen, Notetaker
  • Greece
  • Foreign Minister Bitsios
  • Amb. Alexandrakis


  • The Aegean Crisis
[Page 232]

Kissinger: Habib thought I couldn’t see you without first getting a briefing from him!

Bitsios: Go ahead and brief him.

Kissinger: No, that won’t be necessary. I am pleased to see you again, as I always am, although I regret the circumstances that bring you here. I have been following the debate closely, as well as the events that led up to the debate.

We have great sympathy for the problem this presents your government. We have no interest in seeing this turn into a conflict. We have no desire to see it end in humiliation for Greece or indeed for either side.

How long will you be here?

Bitsios: Until the resolution is adopted.

Kissinger: How does it look? Do you have the European draft? I saw what is said to be a European draft only late last night and have not had a chance to study it.2

Bitsios: (after some hesitation) This Sismik incident came upon us in an already overcharged atmosphere, thanks to Cyprus and other problems.

Moreover this was not necessary. To send out the Sismik did not help the atmosphere or contribute to the delimitation of the continental shelf. On the contrary, we were in the midst of negotiations when this happened.

Kissinger: I thought there were no negotiations at present?

Bitsios: There were indeed.

Kissinger: But hadn’t they been interrupted for almost a year?

Bitsios: No, they were adjourned temporarily; each side was to study the proposals of the other side. During the last round in Bern, the head of our delegation gave a fair warning to the Turks of the implications were the Sismik to sail. We said don’t do it. We said it would be unwarranted, unnecessary and unhelpful.

Kissinger: I suspect their action is a product of the Turkish domestic situation.

[Page 233]

Bitsios: I don’t know. The third point is that even when the ship was ready to sail, we twice attempted some kind of discussions. But these failed. The Turks were determined to sail it—as necessary, as many Turkish politicians urged all over the Aegean.

Even when we handed over our second note of protest we urged that the ship’s itinerary be stopped and that we go to negotiations. The answer was no.

To make a long story short, it is clear that if this doesn’t stop, we will soon have a situation of really extreme danger to say the least. And the prospect for negotiations will be totally disrupted. So my coming here was to ask that the ship’s movements be stopped and that we resume negotiations.

I have seen the draft resolution. I am not sure it covers the needs I have expressed but we need to study it further.

Kissinger: What do you say about the argument of our legal people that if the ship makes no contact with the ocean floor in its research, your rights are not endangered?3

Bitsios: Kubisch explained that position to us. But we have consulted with American and other international lawyers and don’t see it that way.

Kissinger: If those lawyers are Greek-American lawyers I am not so sure about that advice!

Bitsios: No, these are pure American, Harvard professors! They all agree that with modern technology, contact with the ocean floor is not necessary.

If they were prepared to negotiate in Bern why are they doing and saying the things that they are now?

Kissinger: I have not seen Caglayangil’s statement of yesterday; the Department feels that if I see things like that within 12 hours, I might become operational!

Bitsios: Well I leave that problem to Ambassador Bennett.

Kissinger: What did Caglayangil say?

Habib: He made essentially three points. The first that they were already in a state of negotiations with Greece when the Greeks already knew about the ship and that was sufficient Greek acceptance of it in itself. The second point was that the Aegean is clearly not yet delimited in its continental shelf so that Turkey has a right to do research.

[Page 234]

The Secretary: That point seems understandable to me.

Habib: The third point was that the Turks have always felt that bilateral negotiations were necessary before going to the ICJ. These were the main points: there was also criticism of Greek militarization of certain Aegean islands.

Bitsios: Oh yes! That is what is described as the chauvinism of Greece.

Bennett: Much was also made of the obligations of Greece under the Lausanne Treaty.

Bitsios: The point is that there is no question of legal arguments. The legal issue can be resolved by the Court. I must say, I would like to ask Caglayangil why not go to the Court if he is so certain of his case. The real problem is that an atmosphere has been created by Turkish actions bringing us very near to war. All it would take is a small incident; indeed we depend for peace on the sang froid of the mere captain of some small ship somewhere.

A number of things were underway. Another meeting was planned on air rights; another one was expected on the continental shelf problem. But all of this has been blown up out of proportion because of their insistence on this ship.

Kissinger: Are you meeting Caglayangil here?

Bitsios: I might but I don’t know.

Kissinger: What is the sequence in the Council now?

Bennett: The next meeting is on Tuesday morning.

Kissinger: When do we speak? I prefer that we speak among the last.

Bennett: That depends on how things go but it could be something like Thursday. However, if a resolution can be put together by Tuesday morning, the debate could be finished that day. The practice is for everyone on the Council to speak at some point, either before or after the resolution is adopted.

Kissinger: I didn’t like at all what the Department drafted for your speech so I have sent them back to the drawing board. What that draft contained couldn’t possibly offend anyone, which of course would be totally uncharacteristic for us.

Bitsios: My concern is that Caglayangil will start the usual bazaar leak process. I am not going along with that game. I have one or two points on which I will want clarification.

Kissinger: Let’s look at the text. I would like to get Caglayangil’s reaction. What is yours? I assume it is not 100% acceptable but I assume neither side will get everything it wants.

Bitsios: I am not sure the present draft will give a sufficiently strong message to the Turkish politicians that the Security Council won’t condone further research by their ship.

[Page 235]

Kissinger: Well, I should think the language in the first operative paragraph about refraining from acts contributing to tension does that and so I doubt that this will be acceptable to the Turks.

Bitsios: That language is fine with us. But what is necessary here at the outset of the text is that the whole process concerns the delimitation of the continental shelf. It is dangerous to leave that issue vague.

Kissinger: What other things are involved?

Bitsios: If the language in paragraph 6 could be put at the beginning of the text the whole thing would be more clear.4

Kissinger: You understand that this is not our draft?

Bitsios: Yes, I could start asking for various clarifications of the text but beyond what I have indicated, I think I should best take the approach that this is a resolution directed at the Greek Government from the Council and we accept it. If I did this, this would hopefully stop a bargaining process from beginning. I think it is correct of the Council to take the approach with the parties of saying here is our resolution and how we feel about it and you can take it or leave it.

Kissinger: Have we talked to the Europeans who are drafting this?

Bennett: Yes.

Kissinger: What is the Turkish reaction? Do they have the text?

Bennett: Yes, they do but I don’t know how they feel about it since they only got it last night from the British. The British also gave a copy to the Japanese President of the Council as a courtesy.

Kissinger: Suppose it is accepted by both sides as it now reads and the Sismik then proceeds to continue its sailings?

Bitsios: Then we will all know that the Turks are deliberately provoking to the extreme.

Kissinger: How do you answer the argument made by the Turks that if they don’t send their ship, they are in effect giving up their legal arguments?

Bitsios: This issue does not have merits on the basis of law. It does not depend on the sailing of the ship. On the other hand, according to the international law, if the ship is sent and the other side doesn’t react, then the other side loses its rights.

Kissinger: Not if you protest it.

[Page 236]

Bitsios: The Turks claim that our islands are mere protuberances of the Anatolian mainland and that the Greeks have no rights in that area.

Kissinger: I understand what they say but they also say that their legal claims need to be enhanced by research of the kind done by the ship.

Bitsios: If they go West of our islands with the ship that in effect establishes rights that we cannot allow.

Kissinger: But again, not if you protest. The question is whether force should be used. There is no question that you should acquiesce to the Turkish claims. The question is how you react and with what means.

Bitsios: The choice in this situation for Caramanlis was very difficult. He chose this course of going to the Council. Public opinion and our military were very aroused. It took Caramanlis’ prestige and willpower to say; no, we will first try the peaceful procedures.

But we risk over-taxing Caramanlis’ prestige and ability, particularly when Cyprus remains unresolved.

Do you really doubt Turkey’s ultimate intentions and the philosophical attitude behind their basic foreign policy? All of this is consistent with the ambition of Attaturk.

Kissinger: I think their domestic situation is so paralyzed that both major parties there are competing to see who can be most nationalistic. But I don’t have the impression of some master plan. The only Turkish politician smart enough to have a master plan of that kind would be Ecevit. DEMIREL’s approach is purely political. I have never heard him express a conceptual phrase. Caglayangil is probably capable of a conceptual approach.

Bitsios: But Caglayangil has no power.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Bitsios: He is difficult to deal with; he often denies what he says earlier.

Kissinger: This may reflect his domestic situation. Basically I have a rather high opinion of Caglayangil as a human being. But I agree he doesn’t have much power. I don’t think he has a conceptual plan to humiliate Greece.

I remember the first time I talked with a Turkish Foreign Minister. That was Gunes. He spoke with great passion about Turkey’s position. I didn’t know anything much of the problem then; I was in my phase of not understanding the intensity of Greek-Turkish hatred.

Then there was the situation at the time of the Cyprus invasion. There was an Aegean crisis then too and they had troops in the Aegean technically ready to move on that issue; they facilitated their invasion of Cyprus.

[Page 237]

Someone told me that the Turkish press is publishing texts of my telephone conversations at the time with Ecevit. I haven’t seen them but this may mean my reputation in Greece will be at stake.

Bitsios: No, your reputation in Greece will not be damaged by a leaked telephone conversation!

Kissinger: I would think my reputation in Greece is probably already beyond repair. I suspect that even if I could restore Syracuse to Greek control and reestablished the Athenian Empire, I would still be accused in Greece of being anti-Hellenic. I have reconciled myself to my fate as far as Greek public opinion is concerned.

Bitsios: On the contrary! There are ways and means to rectify that. Indeed the television cameras are available out in the hall.

Kissinger: I will have to talk to Caglayangil. I see nothing the US needs to object to in this resolution. But our concern is to prevent the intensification of tensions so I want to see Caglayangil before giving you a definitive judgment. I will be in touch with you through your mission later today.

Bitsios: I understand your position. But if Caglayangil starts watering down each paragraph that will put us out of business.

Kissinger: I agree, but I would at least like to get his opinion.

Bitsios: Our dilemma is very clear. Either the Council lets things drag on and allows the Turks to continue their operations which will mean we reach a point of no return, or the Council urges the Turks to discontinue what they are doing and enter into negotiations.

Kissinger: Would you be prepared to avoid any activity on your part in that area?

Bitsios: Yes.

Kissinger: I am thinking out loud here; if we say that both sides have made their position clear, could you acquiesce in some Turkish activity?

Bitsios: That depends on where it is.

Kissinger: No one challenges your rights beyond the median line drawn with the mainlands as base points. There is the further problem of activity between that line and the Western edge of the islands. Is it possible that you would agree that there would be no activity in that area?

Bitsios: It depends on what kind of activity. We haven’t done any research of this kind in some time. What they say about our earlier research is a half-truth, reflecting the fact of some research on our part in the early 60’s.

Kissinger: The task is to find a formula that clearly defines the disputed zone and that will note that Greece has conducted research in these areas and that Turkey has now also done so. That doesn’t make [Page 238] that area less disputed, but it could be agreed that for the present, in those areas, no one shall conduct further research.

Bitsios: Don’t introduce that idea in the Council. I cannot accept that their claim is equal to ours. Our claim is based on international law, on the 1958 Convention.5 Their claim is based on nothing.

Kissinger: Our lawyers in the Department claim there is a good basis for use of the median line between main lands.

Bitsios: On what grounds?

Kissinger: I have not gone into that in any detail. The point is that this will not be settled on the basis of US legal views or indeed on purely legal grounds of any kind.

Bitsios: Before we made our decision we had made our legal study.

Kissinger: Look, I have never questioned Greek intelligence! So I assumed you had made a good study.

Bitsios: Basically your idea is already contained in operative paragraph one.

Kissinger: What if we said something like this after the resolution was adopted.

Bitsios: We believe they have violated our continental shelf many times. We don’t say that they should take the ship back to Istanbul. They can continue sailing it, so long as it is not in their territorial waters.

Kissinger: It seems to me that there are two issues involved. The first is to determine what kind of resolution is acceptable. Certainly there is no reason why the US should object to this draft. If Caglayangil wants to make basic changes that is another matter. I don’t want to get into the dispute.

But this is only the first step. Suppose the Turks say, if the resolution is adopted, that the ship doesn’t increase tensions and off they go again? Then we have the problem all over again. So how do we stop another exploratory voyage of this kind? It is in this connection that a US statement might play a role. I am not insisting that we do it but someone needs to. If we are to move from the resolution to talks that are not complicated by sailings of the ship we cannot rely on an automatic effect of the resolution. My question is how we avoid Turkey ignoring a resolution.

[Page 239]

What if the US and the Nine made separate statements appealing to both sides.

Bitsios: But we cannot go along with the median line.

Kissinger: I am not saying you should accept the median line as a final settlement. There clearly is still a disputed area.

But we can’t just let things drift. We cannot have another war in the Aegean.

Bitsios: We need a moratorium of some kind. Operative paragraph one can be interpreted as such.

Kissinger: By both sides?

This is not just a legal matter. There are high political risks and in that situation we are not going to be dragged step by step into it.

Bitsios: But if we begin talking of median lines in the Council we will have a debate on that.

Kissinger: But if we have this resolution and then in two or three weeks there is more of the same kind of tension then where are we?

Bitsios: Ambassador Bennett could stand up in the Council next week and point out that operative paragraph one amounts to a moratorium. You could assure Caglayangil when you see him today that we have no intention to follow him with any provocative actions on our part.

Kissinger: I realize there are no reasons for the US to try to define the disputed area. But supposing we simply say that neither side should engage in provocative acts in the disputed area… after all that is what the first operative paragraph really says.

Bitsios: (draws a rough map of the Aegean)

Kissinger: Look, I have looked at the maps and we are not going to try to draw new lines or take new legal positions on our part. That would be absurd. We are engaged with Canada now and we know what the problem is like so we are not going to go into the Aegean and take on the responsibility of drawing new lines. But the point is that there are disputed areas…

Bitsios: Not in a legal sense but I agree there are such areas in a political sense.

Kissinger: Look, if I were to get any further into the legal arguments I would have to get you together with Monroe Leigh. But I am not eager to do this; to inject our legal position could only complicate the problem. We have not taken a formal legal position; what you have seen from us are only internal papers that have no formal status.

Well, I will be seeing Caglayangil later this morning. Let’s decide what we say to the press.

Bitsios: Before we do that I have a message for you from Caramanlis that I want to convey.

[Page 240]

Kissinger: Should we meet alone?

Bitsios: Yes, then we can come back and resume talking about how we deal with the press.

(Secretary and Bitsios leave the room)

Alexandrakis: I hope any statement to the press by you avoids the traditional expression of calling for restraint on both sides. You could say we are studying the positions of both sides and seeking the views of both so you could better understand the respective positions.

Bennett: We could also note that working drafts of a resolution are circulating.

Habib: Do I understand your Minister has said that you are inclined to let the Security Council take its position and then you would live with it?

Alexandrakis: Yes, we are prepared to accept it as it is.

Habib: In other words you would leave it to the Council. You would accept Caglayangil’s latest statement for the record and then go on from there. Obviously any resolution has to be generally acceptable to both sides.

I hope the Minister understood what the Secretary was saying about disputed areas. Obviously there is a disputed area. That does not mean that everyone agrees exactly where that disputed area is.

(Secretary and Bitsios return)

Kissinger: We left it that I will call the Foreign Minister after I have seen Caglayangil. Meanwhile I will go out and express my appreciation that Greece has initiated the process of peaceful procedures looking toward a settlement, which is what we all believe should happen, and that we believe in the meantime that neither side should resort to actions that would jeopardize the atmosphere of these negotiations. And I hope the next time, Mr. Minister, you come to the US for a calm visit.

(Secretary and Minister meet with the Press in the hall)

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 344, Department of State, Memoranda of Conversations, External. Confidential; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Waldorf Towers, where Kissinger stayed while attending a UN Security Council session. He met with Foreign Minister Caglayangil later that morning; see Document 245.
  2. Habib gave Kissinger a copy of the draft resolution on August 13, which the British had given to USUN. It did not call for the Turkish ship to stay out of the disputed waters but asked the two sides to refrain from action that would increase tension and to resume negotiations. The draft also referred to the ICJ and its jurisdiction over such matters. (Ibid., Box CL 149, Geopolitical File, Greece) As part of the ongoing dispute between Greece and Turkey over the status of the Aegean waters, Turkey announced on August 5 that its seismic survey ship, Sismik, would conduct operations August 5–16 in the disputed waters around the Greek island of Lesbos. (Telegram 6034 from Ankara, August 6; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1976)
  3. C. Arthur Borg, Executive Secretary of the Department of State, sent a memorandum summarizing the legal issues to Scowcroft on August 13. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Middle East and South Asia, Box 10, Greece 6)
  4. Paragraph 6 noted a May 31, 1975, joint communiqué by Greece and Turkey to resolve the continental shelf dispute in the ICJ. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 149, Geopolitical File, Greece) See footnote 3, Document 246.
  5. The 1958 Continental Shelf Convention established the exclusive right of the coastal country to exercise sovereignty over its continental shelf for the purpose of exploration and exploitation of natural resources. Signed at Geneva on April 29, 1958 and entered into force on June 10, 1964. ( UN Treaty Series, vol. 499, p. 311)