117. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Prime Minister of Turkey Bulent ECEVIT
  • Foreign Minister Gunduz OKCUN
  • SYG of the Foreign Ministry ELEKDAG
  • Permanent Representative of Turkey to the U.N. Ilter TURKMEN
  • Senator Paul S. Sarbanes (Maryland)
  • Congressman John Brademas (Indiana)
  • Congressman Benjamin S. Rosenthal (NY)
  • Ambassador James F. Leonard, USUN

SUMMARY: Senator Sarbanes and Congressmen Brademas and Rosenthal expressed disappointment that the recent Turkish proposals on Cyprus had not been more forthcoming.2 They thought an opening unilateral concession, such as returning Varosha outright to the Greek-Cypriots, would have facilitated negotiations and swept aside opposition to lifting the arms embargo. Prime Minister Ecevit responded by reviewing the Cyprus problem since 1974, stressing that the August 1974 Turkish military move had been the direct result of Greek intransigence in Geneva, coupled with an immediate threat to Turkish-Cypriots on the island. The Prime Minister stressed that he would pursue a solution regardless of what action Congress took on [Page 367] the embargo. He underlined that Varosha’s political future was open to negotiation. He felt strongly that direct negotiations between the two communities were the best way to solve the Cyprus problem. The Prime Minister argued vigorously that the arms embargo is an impediment to negotiations. Following the meeting Ambassador Leonard outlined to Senator Sarbanes and Congressmen Brademas and Rosenthal the dilemma of the embargo: maintain it and negotiations will probably remain deadlocked; lift it and at least Varosha will probably be recovered, though no one can be sure what else might be achieved. END SUMMARY.

Congressman Brademas opened the discussion by reviewing his own positions on Greek-Turkish relations and Cyprus. He pointed out that he, like Representatives Sarbanes and Rosenthal, had been a vigorous critic of the Greek Junta and that he was on record publicly to express understanding of the first Turkish military action in Cyprus in July 1974. He had been strongly critical of the second Turkish action in August and his subsequent support of the embargo on U.S. military assistance to Turkey had been for him quite natural, given the importance he attached to scrupulous fulfillment of our laws governing the use of U.S. weapons.

Brademas said that he had been a strong admirer of the Prime Minister and was very sympathetic to his program for internal reform and progress in Turkey. In fact, he said, he and his colleagues considered themselves to be “social democrats” and they had, therefore, been very pleased when the Prime Minister had succeeded in forming a government and they had been very hopeful that a new Turkish policy on Cyprus would make it possible for them to follow their own desires to vote for arms for Turkey. They recognized the importance of Turkey in NATO and of a strong NATO.

The Congressman drew attention to the initiative from the U.S. Administration to add an extra $50-million to the FMS allocation for Turkey last year, an initiative they had hoped would make it easier for the Turkish Government to come forward with helpful proposals. In spite of this, there had been no movement whatsoever from the previous government and he was quite disappointed at what had been put forward so far by the Ecevit Administration.

Senator Sarbanes followed up the Brademas presentation with endorsement of its general thrust and added his own particular praise for the Prime Minister’s record and general orientation. He had to say in all frankness, however, that he found the Turkish proposals put forward by Mr. Denktash to be not meaningful. He recognized that the Turks were describing them as simply “opening positions”, but the very serious doubts and suspicions harbored by the Greek side could only be overcome if there was something more concrete than had been offered [Page 368] so far. In particular, he thought it had been a great mistake that the Turkish side had not offered what he called a “loss leader”—that is, a unilateral concession—as a means of making it clear that they were serious and flexible and that the negotiations would be pursued in a sincere fashion. He said that as an example, but only an example, he thought it would have been highly desirable if the Turks had offered simply to give back Varosha to the Greek Cypriots, even before sitting down to negotiate the remaining problems. Such an offer from the Turkish side would have, he said, swept away opposition to the lifting of the embargo.

Congressman Rosenthal reiterated many of the same points, adding that it was not merely his colleagues in Congress who saw the Turkish proposals as not being meaningful, but it was also public opinion in Western Europe and the United States and the most senior officials of the U.S. Administration.

After these three opening statements had been made, taking about one-half hour, Prime Minister Ecevit gave an extended review of his attitude toward the Cyprus problem, beginning with his effort in early 1974 to open a dialogue with the Greek Junta. The Junta had simply refused to engage in any dialogue and instead he found himself faced with the “Samson Coup.” He had immediately gone to London and had urged the United Kingdom Government to join him in the action which was appropriate, given their status as guarantors of the Cyprus agreements.3 The UKG had refused and he had therefore taken action alone, as was Turkey’s right under those agreements. Turkey then had gone to the Geneva negotiations with its military forces on Cyprus in a very precarious position. They were occupying only a narrow corridor between Kyrenia and Nicosia. Moreover, there were pockets of Turkish Cypriots surrounded by Greek forces at several places including the castle of Famagusta. These Turks were in serious danger of being massacred. In the light of these dangers, Turkey had offered at Geneva to accept a repositioning of military forces, which would have placed broad zones occupied by the UN between Turks and Greeks and would have obviated the dangers to the surrounded Turkish civilians. The Greeks had, however, been flatly negative to these proposals and he had, therefore, been compelled to make the August military move. He explained he was going into this in such detail because he had encountered on many occasions the attitude reflected by Brademas; the understanding of the first Turkish action combined with the condemnation of the second.

Congressman Rosenthal intervened at this point to say that as a practical politician he could understand the inability of Greek Prime [Page 369] Minister Caramanlis to make any move in the extremely fragile situation following the overthrow of the Junta.

Ecevit responded that that might well be the case, but that the political situation in Athens was hardly the fault of the Turks, in fact the Greeks owed the Turks quite a debt for bringing about a situation which enabled them to regain their democratic freedoms. In any case, he said, he found that following the August events, he—on his side—did not have the political freedom, because of the attitude of one of his coalition partners, to take those actions which he felt Turkey should take to solve the Cyprus problem. He had therefore given up the government and had, with regret, noted the paralysis that had come over the whole Cyprus question since that time.

Despite the fact that it would have been easier to solve the problem in 1974 than it was now, he had come back into office determined to find a solution. Ecevit stated very strongly that he was seeking a solution for Cyprus, not in order to get the embargo lifted, but because Greece and Turkey were neighbors and it was imperative to live in peace together and to solve their problems themselves. He would, therefore, pursue a solution for Cyprus no matter what Congress did about the embargo question. In seeking a solution, he had encouraged Mr. Denktash to put forward proposals and when these proposals were not properly understood, he had himself made it clear that the Turkish side was prepared to be flexible and had encouraged Mr. Denktash to do the same. Both he and Denktash were very clearly on public record on this matter. He also pointed out that Varosha had not been treated in any detailed way in the Turkish-Cypriot proposals and that as further evidence of Turkish good faith he had encouraged subsequent clarification which added the element that Greek-Cypriots in numbers of up to 30- to 35-thousand would be free to return to Varosha once negotiations were underway.

Senator Sarbanes interjected that the Turkish proposal on Varosha was not seen as a meaningful one, since it envisaged Greek-Cypriots coming back to live under Turkish rule. Ecevit responded to this that both he and Denktash had made clear that the political framework under which Varosha would eventually be placed was a completely open question.

For almost two hours the above themes were reiterated and elaborated upon by the Prime Minister and the three gentlemen from Washington. Sarbanes, in particular, backed up by Brademas, presented the need for a “front-end concession” to demonstrate the sincerity of the Turkish side in the negotiations.

The Prime Minister reiterated in a number of ways his point that these negotiations were best handled directly between Greeks and Turks, and that it was not the best way to solve the problem to “have us [Page 370] negotiating here” on the Cyprus matter. In fact, he pointed out, the effect of the existence of the embargo is to prevent true negotiations. The Greek side bends all of its tactics to preventing the embargo from being lifted and for this reason they refuse to come to the table and test the sincerity of the Turkish side in a normal way. President Kyprianou and his associates, Ecevit asserted, are not interested in any near-term or reasonable solution to the Cyprus problem, but rather wish to keep the embargo up for a number of years in the hope of restoring the status quo ante-1974.

Brademas and Company did not take issue with this analysis but underlined that the Turkish side had it within its power to expose the Greek tactic if it was as described by the Prime Minister. Congressman Rosenthal, in particular, seemed to take the Prime Minister’s point that the embargo was preventing negotiations rather than facilitating them and reiterated many times “we want out” of this uncomfortable position between the two sides.

Among the elements discussed, but not really focused on, were the various possibilities for arranging an encounter between Ecevit and Kyprianou. Ecevit indicated a willingness to meet with Kyprianou but not in a format that would “destroy Denktash.”

The discussion, in spite of its circularity and constant replowing of old ground, was almost never hostile. The Congressional group and the Prime Minister took sharp issue with each other on many points, but on neither side was there anything resembling anger. The discussion ended in an inconclusive fashion.

Ambassador Leonard accompanied the Washington group to a restaurant and discussed briefly with them what might be done next. He underlined that it seemed to him that the supporters of the embargo faced what he recognized was a difficult dilemma—if they maintained the embargo it was not likely these negotiations would go forward and the Greek-Cypriot refugees would gain nothing for years or perhaps forever. On the other hand, if they lifted the embargo, it was likely that they could regain Varosha for the Greek-Cypriots, but they would simply have to take their chances on Turkish flexibility toward remaining territorial questions and the constitution. It would of course be difficult to reimpose an embargo after it had been lifted.

Brademas and Rosenthal seemed much more receptive to this analysis than Sarbanes, whose attention seemed concentrated on the “errors of the past” rather than where we go from here.

The following morning in a conversation with Ambassador Turkmen, Leonard was told that the Prime Minister had been quite pleased by the whole conversation and had not at all been angered by the strong and frank tone taken by the three Americans.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of Southern Europe, Records of Counselor Nimetz, 1977–1980, Lot 83D256, Box 1, POL 2 Cyprus 1977 and 1978. Confidential. Drafted by James F. Leonard (USUN) on June 5. The meeting took place in Ecevit’s suite at the UN Plaza Hotel. No time for the meeting, which lasted for approximately 2½ hours, is noted. Ecevit was in New York to attend the UN Special Session on Disarmament.
  2. See footnote 6, Document 113.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 8.