154. Telegram 1310 From the Embassy in Turkey to the Department of State1 2


  • Meeting With Prime Minister—Opium Poppy Ban


  • Ankara 1299
In course of meeting morning of February 21 with Prime Minister Ecevit, we discussed Turkey’s poppy ban at some length (in addition to other subjects being reported separately).
This portion conversation began with my referring to earlier talk with FonMin (Ankara 1130), indicating that I had been asked by Washington to make following comments in response:
  • —First, while USG recognizes that poppy growing a domestic political issue in Turkey, I had been asked to stress the widespread and serious nature of U.S. [Page 2] domestic concern over this problem. I noted that heroin poses devastating threat, especially to young people, and that families throughout our nation had great concern over any action which likely to lead to resurgence of availability of this deadly drug.
  • —Second, the ban had had positive results: stocks in the Marseilles “factories” were down, amounts of heroin available on streets of U.S. were down, duality was down and price was up. Result was greatly increased numbers of addicts coming in for treatment.
  • —Third, USG considered it had an agreement with the GOT on subject of poppy ban and that this agreement did not foresee Turkey’s abandonment of program after three years.
  • —Fourth, USG could not understand assertion being made in Turkey that historic poverty of opium areas would be significantly alleviated by allowing farmers again to cultivate poppies. Income derived from sale of poppies for legitimate purposes was marginal. Moreover, I noted that the return to the Turkish farmer had historically only been about one-third higher when he sold into illicit trade than when he sold for legal uses. I emphasized that the sizable economic benefits accrued only to traffickers and that under these circumstances USG was puzzled and dismayed that Turkey now contemplating rescinding ban on economic grounds. On this point I emphasized that the Istanbul based “apparatus” (with tentacles into both the poppy area and into Europe) which illegally purchased and sold the opium gum was still very much in being. I indicated that the PriMin could easily verify this by a check with his own police authorities.
  • —I had been asked to emphasize the high cost of even partially effective surveillance systems and that in Turkey’s case the difficulties of surveillance were compounded both by the continuing existence of the Istanbul apparatus and by Turkey’s nearness to illicit European operations. In this connection I explained that in the case of India, much of the leakage which escaped GOI surveillance was absorbed internally since India, unlike Turkey, has its own opium addiction problem. In Turkey’s case, however, all leakage went into the illegal export market. [Page 3] I pointed out that, of the $20 million grant which the U.S. had made available for funding of income replacement projects in the poppy area, only $3.5 million had actually been spent by Turkish authorities and that, even if one added the additional funds which had been reserved for multiyear projects, almost one-half of the $20 million had not been used in any way. I noted, however, that once the $20 million had been fully committed for sound income replacement projects, USG would be willing to consider financing additional projects under normal aid criteria.
  • —Finally I was instructed, for all foregoing reasons to express strong USG hope that Turkey would not lift poppy ban.
Ecevit took notes but did not interrupt throughout above presentations. He then made following comments:
  • —He said it was first of all essential for USG to understand that no Turkish Government, in office as a result of normal democratic processes, could ever have taken decision to impose poppy ban as military sponsored Erim government had done.
  • —While he had great respect for Professor Erim, he was highly critical of the manner in which the ban had been worked out. He did not blame USG for pushing for ban, but he did blame Erim government for acquiescing before the proper backstopping work had been done. He said a number of rudimentary considerations of a technological nature had not been taken into account and that this had caused considerable subsequent inequity in the application of the ban. He noted that at the time the Erim government acted, Turkey was already in a gradual program of eliminating poppy production, but the precipitous nature of the unthought-through Erim government action had resulted in much hardship.
  • —He acknowledged point I made that amount of income produced from legal production was limited, but stressed that in such poor areas this income was nonetheless of critical importance. He added that aside from loss of income, farmers were also having to find money to buy essential cooking oil [Page 4] which they had earlier gotten from poppy plants. (I interrupted to explain that in fact the sunflower plant provided a good deal in the way of seed and oil replacement.)
  • Ecevit next referred to our earlier discussion regarding forthcoming amnesty legislation (reftel) and spoke at some length of Turkish bewilderment over apparent USG “split personality” regarding narcotics problems. We were unyielding with regard to the Turkish poppy farmer while urging clemency for American narcotics offenders. He felt we should regard stiff sentences (which were also being meted out to Turks) as welcome evidence of this sincerity of Turkey’s effort to crack down on the drug problem. I explained to him, as I had earlier to the FonMin, who raised similar point, that the USG position was not inconsistent. We believed trafficking in hashish was a [Page 5] significant offense, but we did not think it was comparable in seriousness to dealings in hard drugs such as heroin. We commended severe measures against heroin, but we did not believe the sentences of soft drug offenders should be on the same level.
  • Ecevit next commented on my assertion re existence of US-Turkish agreement concerning poppy ban. Of all my remarks, this drew his strongest reaction. He categorically and emphatically denied that there was any agreement, and he indicated further that no self-respecting Turkish Government would ever make such an agreement. Rightly or wrongly, the poppy ban decision was taken unilaterally by the then Turkish Government, and he hoped very much the USG would not use this “agreement” argument. I responded that my understanding was that Professor Erim personally believed that opium was a dirty business which had given Turkey a black eye on the international [Page 6] scene and therefore should be eliminated because, very simply, that the right thing for Turkey to do. In addition, he had a vision of bringing, with US help, a much more reputable and productive economic infrastructure to the former poppy growing areas. That, I was sure, was the basic motivation for his action. However, I added that if the Prime Minister would find the time to read Ambassador Handley’s letter of July, 1971 and Ambassador Esenbel’s aide memoire of the following September, I thought he would understand why the USG considered there was a USG-GOT agreement involved and why this remains a factor in our thinking. Nevertheless, I stressed that the main thrust of our argument was that going back into poppy business would be only a marginal help to the farmer, that leakage could not be effectively controlled despite major and costly surveillance efforts, that the main beneficiary would be crooked traffickers and finally that the main victims would be young people in our country and elsewhere in the world to whom heroin would be ultimately peddled. In commenting on the latter point, the Prime Minister said that he was very confident that a much better job of surveillance would be done in the future should Turkey allow growing to resume.
  • Ecevit said that he had heard that the USG had concluded that the world was now facing a shortage of opium for its legitimate medicinal needs. He further understood that we were urging that production be increased in countries other than Turkey. I confirmed that, because of the delays in developing an opium substitute, we had reached such a conclusion, but that we were not urging increased production “in other countries.” Rather, we believed we should deal with the shortage problem only through more efficient production methods on the same amount of land in India that is already being used for poppy cultivation where experience has indicated that there is little leakage into international traffic channels. The Prime Minister’s response was an emphatic statement to the effect that it was absolutely impossible to explain to the Turkish public that Turkey must not grow opium while India was being asked to grow more. Whatever logic I offered to explain this situation, he said, the Turkish public simply would not accept it.
Ecevit next said that he wanted to stress that his government was attempting to take international humanitarian considerations into account in reaching its decision with respect to the poppy ban. He noted that “about three committees” were hard at work on the problem, and that he expected that his government would make a decision sometime in the next two or three weeks. (At another portion of our conversation he said he hoped for a decision within one to one and one-half weeks.) I expressed some surprise on hearing this. I inquired what had happened to the FonMin’s suggestion that we get US and Turkish experts together to discuss, without pre-conceived solution in mind, the best way to deal with this problem. Ecevit responded that once decisions were reached within the GOT the next step would be to sit down for frank, private talks with USG as to best way to resolve this matter.
Having said this, the Prime Minister referred again to Professor Erim and indicated belief that Erim had been badly let down by USG because, in addition to the promise of the $35 million (which we had made good on), Erim received high-level commitment for $40 million in military assistance funds which had never been forthcoming. I said Ecevit was undoubtedly referring to USG hope, allegedly expressed to Erim during a Washington visit, that a $40 million cut in military assistance, necessitated by congressional slashes in aid appropriations, could be restored. I said that the two transactions were completely separate, that a good-faith effort had subsequently been made to provide restoration of the funds that were cut, but there simply had not been sufficient appropriations to cover this. The Prime Minister said he had raised this episode to illustrate that governments’ aid commitments could not ever be absolutely relied upon because of the uncertainties of congressional action. He said however that he obviously accepted the good-faith of my earlier suggestion that after current $20 million were properly spent in poppy area, more aid for specifically approved projects could be forthcoming if ban maintained.
This portion of our conversation ended with Ecevit again saying that GOT had as yet made no decisions on this matter, but stressing that something had to be done which was both prompt and effective to resolve the situation of the impoverished farmers [Page 8] in poppy growing area.
Comment: I have reported foregoing in considerable detail as I believe it essential for Department to have exact flavor of this conversation. Ecevit was cordial and soft-spoken throughout our interview but, while he has taken no final decision, he is obviously pursuing a very hard line, and I have no confidence that the “committees” he refers to will come up with anything but trouble. My personal judgment is that Ecevit would like to avoid going back into poppy growing business but does not believe that USG is going to offer sufficient additional help for the poppy areas to give him a domestic political “out”. I believe he also feels that USG reaction to a carefully couched announcement of a limited resumption under much improved controls will in the end be manageable in the context of our overall relationship.
I believe the time has now come for Washington to weigh this with Turkish Embassy. GOT will clearly expect such a demarche as confirmation that Washington views rescinding of opium ban with same concern which I have conveyed help. Turk officials will also carefully note level from which Washington demarche comes as they continue effort to assess potential impact of ban decision on overall US-Turk relations.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC files, Box 634, Country Files, Middle East, Turkey Volume IV, January 74 [July 74]. Secret; Priority. Repeated for information to Geneva and U.S. Consulates in Adana, Istanbul, and Izmir. Forwarded on February 23 to Kissinger as telegram 36526 from the Department of State to the Embassy in Mexico.
  2. Ambassador Macomber reported the details of his meeting with Prime Minister Ecevit concerning potential Turkish reintroduction of opium poppy cultivation.