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96. Briefing Paper Prepared by Paul Henze of the National Security Council Staff1

BULENT ECEVIT

Bulent Ecevit prides himself on being a tough Turk with a gentle soul. He has more natural appeal than any Turkish leader since Ataturk. Having served only 7½ months as Prime Minister, however, he is essentially unproven as a leader. He came into office in 1974 advocating far-out economic and social reform schemes, but his main political acts before the Cyprus crisis were a sweeping general amnesty and resumption of poppy cultivation.2 His optimism on the Turkish Government’s ability to control poppies was justified. The amnesty, however, caused the release of many terrorists and agitators who have contributed to the high level of civil commotion in Turkey during the past two years.

Ecevit is weakest on economics. He will have to deal with urgent economic problems now and this, along with the interlocking problems of Cyprus, Greece, U.S. and NATO relations, will be the two main challenges he will face as Prime Minister.

Ecevit was a reluctant dragon in respect to Cyprus in 1974. He ordered invasion only as a last resort, after determined efforts to persuade the British to join Turkey in intervening. Once done, Ecevit exploited the Cyprus operation to make himself a national hero. His popularity was enormously high when he resigned in September 1974 to rid himself of his reactionary coalition partner, Erbakan.

Out of power and frustrated during the past two years, Ecevit has flirted with the left and sometimes dabbled with narrow nationalism. He has avoided getting stuck on extreme positions, however, and there is no reason to doubt his basic commitment to NATO, EEC and close relations with Europe and the United States. He is sincerely interested in social justice and believes a high rate of economic growth can be combined with expanded social services and rural development.

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Ecevit wants to have a good international image and close ties with European and American leadership. This Administration should have no difficulty developing rapport with Ecevit. He is in a better position than anyone else in Turkey could be to move toward a Cyprus settlement and reconciliation with Greece. His talk of a meeting with Karamanlis at an early date is not mere posturing. Ecevit would like to do what Ataturk did with Venizelos in the 1920’s: settle Greek-Turkish strife so both countries can concentrate on more fundamental objectives: complete social and political modernization and integration into Europe.

Ecevit speaks good English, has great personal charm and is easy to talk to. His quick mind grasps key issues readily but he sometimes goes off on flights of fancy, like the poet he is. He likes to make dramatic personnel appointments. A Turkish Government under his leadership would be much more exciting and colorful than it has been in the past 2½ years.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 75, Turkey: 1–12/77. Confidential. In a June 9 covering memorandum to Carter, Brzezinski noted that Henze, who served for the past three years in Turkey, “observed Ecevit closely both in and out of office and knows him personally.” Carter wrote “good” in the upper right corner and initialed “J” on the covering memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. For the U.S. reaction to Ecevit’s lifting of the 1971 opium poppy ban in 1974, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXX, Greece; Cyprus; Turkey, 1973–1976, Documents 199, 202, 204 206, 208, and 209.