88. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting with Former Prime Minister Ecevit


  • Turks

    • Bulent Ecevit
    • Hasan Esat Isik
    • Turan Gunes
  • Americans

    • Secretary Clifford
    • Matthew Nimetz
    • Nelson C. Ledsky
    • Gregory Treverton

Ecevit welcomed Clifford warmly and, following a brief conversation about the domestic Turkish electoral situation, in which Ecevit affirmed that national elections would likely be held in June, the discussion quickly turned to the purpose of the Clifford mission. Clifford explained that he had come to the Eastern Mediterranean to ascertain the facts about the problems in the area and the attitudes of the parties. The mission would then prepare a report for the President and, based on this report and meetings in Washington, new policies would be formulated to cover the Eastern Mediterranean. Clifford reviewed his visit [Page 285] to Vienna and Greece, and said that we intended after Ankara to proceed to Cyprus and London.2 He then asked Ecevit to give us the benefit of his views on the problems in the area as he saw them.

Ecevit focused first on statements in the press attributed to Clifford that the problems existing between Greece and Turkey were greater than Clifford had thought when he left Washington.3 Ecevit expressed the view that matters between Greece and Turkey were proceeding more smoothly in recent months and he was therefore startled by Clifford’s special reference to these issues.

Ecevit went on to insist that there had been no recent change in Turkish attitudes toward Greece. Turkey was not an expansionist power; nor was it pursuing aggressive policies. Indeed, the present coalition in Ankara was so divided that it could barely formulate or implement a foreign policy at all. Ecevit noted that the coalition was unable to discuss Cyprus or solve Turkey’s problems with the European Community. There were no visible segments of public opinion that demanded an aggressive policy toward Greece. Ecevit insisted the Turkish people were not adventuresome, and that the very impossibility of the Turkish Government acting decisively in any area made a mockery of Caramanlis’ assertions to Clifford.4

Ecevit said that with respect to questions about an Aegean army, this was not a new development. The stationing of amphibious vessels along the Aegean began in the late 1960s as a response to the gradual Greek military buildup on the Aegean islands.

With respect to air rights issues, Ecevit said Turkey had been remiss in decades past in not insisting on its rights in the Aegean. It had left air traffic control to the Greeks, and Athens had taken advantage of this Turkish laxness to extend naval and air control, first through the NATO apparatus and then bilaterally over the entire Aegean. Turkey does demand a re-evaluation of this situation based on new circumstances and technology.

With respect to the Continental Shelf, Ecevit noted that Greece had been conducting seismographic studies in the Aegean since 1965. Much of this exploration was in areas which might logically be considered under dispute. The Turks said nothing while this was going on. When Ecevit assumed control of the Turkish Government in 1974 he said he [Page 286] asked for negotiations with the Greek junta concerning both the air space and Continental Shelf questions. The Greeks rejected this request and Ecevit said he had no choice but to send the first Turkish seismic vessel into the Aegean. In 1975 Ecevit said he had made arrangements for a further exploration by a Norwegian vessel, but he left office and the caretaker Turkish Government did not feel strong enough to pursue this matter. Then last year, under pressure from Ecevit, Prime Minister Demirel sent the Sismik out into the Aegean.5 Ecevit claimed Turkey had every right to take this action and that when he had been in Washington in 1976 he had told President Ford, Secretary Kissinger and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that Turkey wanted a full settlement of all questions connected with the Aegean, but that the Greeks would not meet Turkey half way.6 Ecevit then went on to describe how the Greeks took their case in the fall of 1976 to the Security Council and the World Court and both bodies came down generally more on the Turkish than Greek side. It was only then, Ecevit claimed, that Greece accepted the need for serious negotiations.

Ecevit said that he personally viewed this as a hopeful development, and that a modest beginning had been made in recent months. He insisted that if the two countries were left alone they would eventually reach a negotiated settlement to their various Aegean disputes. Ecevit went on to say he was concerned by the slow pace of these negotiations, which he claimed benefitted the Greek position. Ecevit said that the position of his party on the Aegean was clear, and that if he won the forthcoming elections he would move to speed up the negotiations with Greece. He insisted, however, that Turkey had to get a fair share of Aegean assets.

Ecevit went on to insist there was no relationship between the Continental Shelf issue and the question of Turkish aggressive intent in the Aegean. Turkey has made no claims against the Greek islands. Ecevit said he had made such an announcement publicly and would be prepared to do so again at any time. The real difficulty, Ecevit said, was that Greece was exploiting her sovereignty over the islands to make claims over the entire Continental Shelf, but he concluded his presentation by saying that the issue was under control, and that there was no reason to be worried by the present state of Greek-Turkish differences over the Aegean.

Mr. Clifford said he would like to mention two other points raised by Caramanlis. The first was that Caramanlis was a moderate leader who wanted to negotiate. Turkey therefore was missing an opportunity [Page 287] by not settling Greco-Turkish problems with him. Caramanlis said he could find no interlocutor in Turkey with whom he could talk. Clifford said he felt that there was indeed a lack of understanding between the two sides, which could produce, without the fault of either, a very serious situation.

Ecevit said perhaps Caramanlis was right on this point and that no conversation partner could emerge in Turkey until after the June elections. At that point, Ecevit said, he hoped to speak directly to Caramanlis as he had tried to do when Caramanlis returned to Athens in the summer of 1974. Ecevit repeated, however, that there was no reason for Greece or any other power to fear Turkish expansionism. No responsible Turkish official had advocated or believed in such a course. Nor does the evidence of recent years suggest that the Turks really want to expand their territory. Ecevit noted that Turkish forces could have seized all of Cyprus in 1974 had they wanted to do so. Instead, Ecevit said, he had sought immediate negotiations and a settlement. While this had not succeeded in 1974, he said he hoped that after the elections he would be in a position to reestablish contact with the Greeks, reach decisions at a policy level and then move quickly to conclude a Cyprus settlement. In this connection he suggested that the present negotiating approach, whereby meetings at the technical level sought agreements which could then be referred upward, was unlikely to produce real results.

In response to further questions about Cyprus from Secretary Clifford, Ecevit said his party had long advocated a reconciliation and final settlement. Ecevit claimed he had urged the coalition government to find a solution to this problem for the past year and a half, and he had never interfered, nor would he in the future, should the coalition wish to move positively on this matter. The real problem lay in the makeup of the coalition itself. It was his understanding that the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in recent weeks had simply bypassed their other coalition partners to push for a meeting between Denktash and Makarios. These meetings may not lead to any definite results. Even if they did the matter would have to be referred back to the Parliament and Turkish Government coalition, which is so divided it cannot approve anything until after the Turkish elections. It would be a good thing, however, if a dialogue between the two Cypriot communities could be kept going between now and late summer so that the new Turkish Government could merely pick up and move to reach an early final settlement.

For now, it was Ecevit’s view that the friends and allies of Turkey should do nothing but wait and see what develops in the intercom [Page 288] munal talks in Vienna in March.7 There was no point in the United States becoming active now, for there could be no expectation of immediate results. Ecevit insisted, however, that Turkey wanted a negotiated solution and wanted to establish good relations with Greece as well. The desire for improving relations with Greece related to NATO, but even without NATO, Greece and Turkey were neighbors and thus had to learn to live together. Ecevit observed that Turkey now has good relations with all its neighbors except the one which was nominally its ally. Ecevit said he would like to make one further observation, namely, that whenever Turkey’s friends in the West stay out of Greek-Turkish difficulties, the two countries manage to resolve their problems peacefully. Whenever Turkey’s friends become overly involved, as they did after World War I, difficulties and even worse have resulted. Both nations are experienced and intelligent, and they have the means to establish good relations between themselves if they are left alone.

Clifford suggested there were both comforting and disturbing elements in Ecevit’s comments. He then went on to describe the situation with respect to Greece, and the US-Turkish Defense Cooperation Agreement. He noted with respect to Cyprus, that there had been no progress in more than two and a half years. This had disturbed many in the United States, who no longer were prepared to view meetings and optimistic statements as evidence of movement toward a negotiated settlement.

Ecevit replied that while he understood the situation in Congress, it was a disturbing thought for a country like Turkey, in a critical geographic situation, to observe that her security might be decided by the internal politics of foreign allies. It was impossible for Turkey to keep her defense relations suspended for any lengthy period of time. It was disturbing also that in the minds of many in the United States, Turkey exists only because Greece exists. Turkey is concerned with more than Greece. It has interests and concerns in the Middle East and throughout the Mediterranean. It wanted to maintain strong ties with NATO, and a strong defense against the Soviet Union. Ecevit felt that it was essential that the United States try to dissociate its security concerns from the quarrels between neighbors which occasionally occur around the world.

Secretary Clifford said that if he and his mission had their way, we would have settled the Turkish-US Defense Cooperation Agreement long ago. He insisted that U.S. policies and actions were not focused on Greece. The United States was conscious of the importance of Turkey [Page 289] and respected and admired Turkey’s loyalty and devotion to the Western Alliance system. Clifford said he also respected Ecevit’s forthrightness and wanted to be equally candid in describing the situation in the United States. He said that regrettable as it might seem, Cyprus did hold up the US-Turkish relationship. This was reality, whether we liked it or not, and he therefore expressed hope that pressure [progress] could soon be made in moving toward a Cyprus settlement. Clifford said he knew that such progress could not be dramatic. He knew, too, that it might not occur immediately, given the Turkish electoral situation. Nonetheless, he noted that such progress was in the joint interests of Turkey and the United States.

Ecevit said he agreed with Clifford and that he and his party both wanted and would work toward a Cyprus solution and better Turkish relations with Greece. He said he would do so, not in the interest of US-Turkish relations, but because such progress was important for Greece, important for Turkey and important for the two communities on Cyprus. He pledged that his party would be of help to the present coalition government in any way it could with respect to Cyprus and the Aegean, but he noted with regret that he did not believe the present government in Turkey was in a position to request or receive such assistance. He concluded his presentation by observing that perhaps we would all have to await the electoral results in Turkey. In that sense, early elections would help us all.

Clifford thanked Ecevit for his frankness and courtesy and said that he had much enjoyed the conversation and the chance to meet with such an experienced and dynamic Turkish leader.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of Counselor Nimetz, 1977–1980, Lot 81D85, Box 2, MemCons. Confidential. Drafted by Ledsky.
  2. Clifford was in Vienna February 16–17, in Athens February 17–20, and in Nicosia February 23–25.
  3. Although no statement by Clifford has been found, several news reports noted the difficulties the Clifford Mission faced. See, for example, Steven V. Roberts, “Clifford in Athens on Mission for Carter to Resolve Cyprus Problem and Heal Greek-Turkish Breach,” The New York Times, February 18, 1977, p. A6, and Thomas Butson and Barbara Slavin, “Clifford’s Cyprus Mission,” The New York Times, February 20, 1977, p. 4.
  4. See the second attachment to Document 8.
  5. See footnote 10, Document 8.
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXX, Greece; Cyprus; Turkey, 1973–1976, Documents 243 and 244.
  7. The talks took place March 31–April 7. See Document 11.