THE WAY the Greeks tell it, the Turks are being beastly, refusing to let Greece return on the old terms to the NATO military structure (Athens stalked out in 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus), and thereby making it unavoidable for the government to close down the American bases and quit NATO altogether. Otherwise, the Greeks say, the leftist opposition will exploit the impasse to beat out the ruling center-right government in elections next year, and then may take Greece into neutrality. This is no idle threat. It could happen. As accustomed as Americans are to take Greece for granted and to worry about whether big, strategic Turkey will remain a reliable ally, the possibility of such a turn is real.

It does not follow, however, that what the Greeks suggest, which is that the United States lean on the Turks, is the best way to go about resolving the problem. To Greeks, having the Junited States lean on the Turks often seems the best way to resolve their difficulties with Ankara. The Greeks, who are attractive and democratic and thoroughly Western-oriented, can usually make a good case on the merits against the moody and only intermittently democratic (currently not) and culturally ambivalent Turks. Sad experience has shown, however, that harsh pressure on a friend is a difficult tactic to make work well. Eyeing Turkey's strategic importance, the Americans invariably blink. The Turks stare back with redoubled ferocity. There has to be a better way.

In this case, there is. NATO perceived early that the NATO reintegration issue sprang from a truly deep and difficult Greek-Turkish dispute over rights in the Aegean Sea. So it wisely labeled Greek reintegration a technical military issue and, to remove it as much as possible from the volatile political mix, handed it over to the NATO supreme military command. The previous commander, Gen. Alexander Haig, almost landed an agreement. His successor, Gen. Bernard Rogers, is pitching for one right now. By turning up the decibels of their anxiety, the Greeks do not make his task (or their own maneuvering) any easier. But surely they realize, as do the Turks, that Greece's reintegration is essential for both of them and that Gen. Rogers is their best and common hope.