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116. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Ecevit of Turkey

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • George Vest, Assistant Secretary of State
  • Matthew Nimetz, Counselor, Department of State
  • Hamilton Jordan, Assistant to the President
  • Jody Powell, Press Secretary to the President
  • Paul B. Henze (Notetaker), National Security Council
  • Bülent Ecevit, Prime Minister of Turkey
  • Gündüz Ökçün, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Hasan Işik, Minister of National Defense
  • Şükrü Elekdağ, Secretary General, Foreign Ministry
  • Turgut Tülümen, Director General for Cyprus and Greek Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Melih Esenbel, Ambassador of Turkey

The President opened the meeting by welcoming the Prime Minister and his party and stating that Turkey is crucial to the U.S. defense posture, that Turkey’s economic and military strength are very important to the United States and that anything we can do to ensure development of this strength we wish to do. The President observed that the arms embargo is the most important immediate issue, stating, “I am determined to do our utmost to remove the arms embargo and reopen completely normal relations.” The President stressed that the U.S. Government had continued to do its best to satisfy Turkey’s military needs within the leeway allowed by the law. He also noted that we understood the delicacy of linkage between the embargo and Cyprus. He said he considered Aegean questions were fundamental, but since the focus of attention has been on Cyprus, progress on Cyprus takes on an exaggerated importance. He said that recent statements by the Turkish side on Cyprus had perhaps not received the notice they deserved and urged the Prime Minister, especially in forthcoming meetings with the Congress, to be as specific as possible about Turkish willingness to negotiate on Cyprus and flexible on relations with Greece.

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PM Ecevit replied that in recent public statements he had tried to tone down his anxieties and avoid emotionalizing. He had learned from President Inönü, he said, that if you permit emotions to build up over international issues they may get out of your control. He did not wish, therefore, to indulge in tactical maneuvering. He felt, nevertheless, that he must be frank in explaining to the President the problems Turkey faced. He went on to expound at length how Greece had blocked Turkish efforts to negotiate and his conviction that Greece wished to crush Turkey under U.S. pressure. He said it seemed to Turkey that Israel had violated U.S. arms-use laws more than Turkey had, but Turkey was treated differently. He said he had been frustrated in his efforts at Montreux to get PM Karamanlis to join him in a serious effort to settle Cyprus and other issues between Greece and Turkey and Kyprianou had refused to meet with Denktaş or join a four-way meeting with Karamanlis. He reiterated issues on which the Turkish side is ready to negotiate in Cyprus, emphasizing that six areas are subject to territorial adjustment as well as the security zone comprising 3% of Cyprus; he repeated the position on resettlement of Varosha. On constitutional arrangements he described the bizonal federal formula as one which he hoped would permit evolution into a “more closely knit unit.” Kyprianou was trying to go back from the realistic position that had been worked out between Makarios and Denktaş, he said. While Karamanlis could credibly claim that he could not influence Makarios, he could not make this claim in respect to Kyprianou. PM Ecevit spoke with strong feeling about Greek intentions to carry the quarrel with Turkey into the EEC, of the Aegean 12-mile territorial limit and FIR issues. The Greeks, he said, consistently refused to negotiate these issues, branding Turkey intransigeant.

The Prime Minister went on to comment on the difficulties of getting the American press to reflect Turkey’s concerns, citing problems with his own recent interviews with the NYT and WSJ. 2 “Even when I have rapport with the journalists, my message does not reach the American people,” he declared. The President interjected that he sometimes felt he had the same problem. The Prime Minister then said to the President, “But you have not yet come out openly on this matter with the exception of an answer to a question in a veterans’ meeting—we get the impression that Turkey does not rate high enough in the list of priorities of the Administration; it comes after Panama and Saudi Arabia.”

The Prime Minister summed up his situation by referring to his cultural attachment to the West and the legacy of Atatürk and said, “Unless you do something more effective and concrete—unless the NATO Council ends up with a clear attitude on this problem—there will be deep disappointment in Turkey. A Congressional decision with humiliating strings attached would be worse than no decision at all. The position you adopted in April would be perfectly acceptable. There are rumors that strings may be attached . . . this would have extremely negative effects on Turkish public opinion.”

The President stressed that we do not underestimate the seriousness of Turkish concern and emphasized that the Administration is marshalling all its influence in the Congress to ensure the removal of the arms embargo. He said that he had recently had the leaders of the House and the Senate around the same table to discuss these matters3 and recalled that he had already dealt with two major foreign policy challenges this year—the Panama treaties and the Middle East arms sales issue. Both proposals had originally been regarded as doomed to defeat and the Panama issue was the most difficult with which he had ever dealt. No domestic lobbies were available to help the Panamanians or Saudis and there were strong domestic forces ranged against them, like the Greek groups who want to continue the arms embargo. But a major element of strength was the constructive attitude taken by the governments of Panama and Saudi Arabia; their public statements were designed to harmonize with our own. “Your knowledge of our country is a great advantage to you,” the President told the Prime Minister; “My belief is that with your help we can succeed.” The President [Page 365]went on to say that he largely agreed with the Prime Minister’s estimate of Greek motives but that this did not deter him.

The President encouraged Prime Minister Ecevit to make maximum use of opportunities such as the National Press Club speech on June 1 and interviews with major publications to underscore the facts and the constructive character of Turkey’s position.4 He suggested, if the Prime Minister wished, that he seek the advice of Secretary Vance or others on the American side to ensure that his National Press Club speech was formulated in the most constructive way possible and underscored all the points of strength in Turkey’s stance. We can, in turn, do our part by focusing American public opinion on the positive side of these issues, the President pointed out. The President then observed that our position would be easier if Turkey could see fit to make further reductions in its troop strength in Cyprus, for it was important, the President said, for Congressional leaders to get the accurate impression that Turkey genuinely wants to settle the Cyprus issue.

The President asked the Prime Minister about possibilities of meeting with Kyprianou and Denktaş, or with Karamanlis. In subsequent discussion, the President emphasized that further proposals for such meetings, even if the Greek side does not accept them, could impact favorably on Congress. The President complimented the Prime Minister on the favorable impression he had made the evening before on Senator Nunn. The President said we would be presenting the arms embargo problem to the Armed Services Committee next week and regarded this as a very important step, for the issue, tactically, had to be handled as a military matter. The President urged the Prime Minister to be positive in his public comments on PM Karamanlis, to stress Turkey’s commitment to NATO and to avoid threats to move toward the Soviets which would have a negative impact in Congress.

Secretary Vance underscored what the President had said by appealing to the Prime Minister to be open-minded and flexible about meetings with Denktaş and Kyprianou, and Karamanlis as well, if possible. PM Ecevit explained that politics among Turkish Cypriots placed certain constraints upon him. He could not let Turkish Cypriots get the impression that he was taking decisions without consulting them. There was further discussion of interviews in the American press, especially in Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report. The President and Secretary Vance offered advice and help in respect to these.

As the hour drew to a close, the Prime Minister declared, “I will do my best. I have so much confidence in you, Mr. President, that I believe you will do a superb job. This has been a very constructive meeting. I [Page 366]can see much more clearly your concerns which you describe very well.” The President commented that the Prime Minister of course knew best how far he could go on constitutional and territorial questions and repeated his advice that PM Ecevit do everything in his power, while in America, to get the reasonableness and seriousness of his position across to the American public and members of the Congress. The President emphasized again that he would do everything he could to help and said we wanted to work very closely with the Prime Minister’s representatives here during the coming weeks.

“There is a limit to what we can do at once in Congress,” the President replied; “it is now coming to the top of our list.” The Prime Min[Page 364]ister complained that NATO had also been too passive on the embargo issue. The equipment of the Turkish army is now close to 50% ineffective, he said, and General Haig’s estimates were that by 1980 it would be 80% obsolete. This was an intolerable situation for NATO itself when other countries were being heavily armed in the Middle East, which is full of explosive problems. The Prime Minister underscored the Turkish commitment to democracy and development. If his present government failed to secure the conditions for keeping Turkey on this path, as it had been ever since WWII, the likelihood that democracy could continue in Turkey was not good. He concluded his remarks on this problem by saying, “If something does not happen soon, we will do our best not to drift away too much. . . but the measures we would have to take for our security could not be dissociated from our political posture. Mr. Karamanlis has been trying to create a deceptively optimistic impression of NATO’s situation in this respect . . . Turkey is at the limits of its patience and I am at the limits of my possibilities.”

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Horn/Special, Box 2, 5/78. Confidential. Drafted by Henze. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room. Ecevit was in Washington to attend the NATO summit meeting May 30–31.
  2. The interviews referred to by Ecevit are likely Bill Paul, “Turkey May Pursue Stronger Soviet Ties, Threatening U.S. Role in Mideast, NATO,” The Wall Street Journal, May 30, 1978, p. 11, and Bernard Gwertzman, “Turkish Chief Sees no Russian Threat,” The New York Times, May 30, 1978, p. 1.
  3. No record of this meeting was found.
  4. Ecevit pledged in this address that Turkey’s membership in NATO would not be affected should the United States maintain the arms embargo.