Turkey may yet allow the United States to fly U2s through its airspace in order to monitor Soviet compliance with the strategic arms limitation treaty, a senior Turkish diplomat here said yesterday.
In an effort to dispel a general impression in Washington that Turkey would resist the overflights, the official told reporters the flights would likely be approved if the United States could assure Turkey the Soviets would go along with them -- something the Soviets so far have not been willing to do.
The official also sought to disprove earlier reports that Turkey had placed a price tag on the use of its airspace.
The remarks clearly left the doors open for an accord on the issue, although it was not the first time the Turks spelled out their conditions.
Since the loss of U.S. intelligence gathering posts in Iran, the use of the high altitude U2s along Turkey's border with the Soviet Union has been seen as one of the principal ways of verifying Soviet compliance with SALT II. Verification of the highly technical provisions of the treaty is a sensitive issue in the Senate debate on ratification.
But the Turks have been touchy about U2 flights since CIA pilot Gary Powers, shot down in 1960 during a spy flight over the Soviet Union, revealed he had taken off from an American base in Turkey. The incident strained relations between Turkey and its huge neighbor, the Soviet Union.
Turkish reluctance about the flights seemed to deepen last June when Turkey's top military commander, upset by the refusal of the U.S. House of Representatives to endorse a $50 million grant to Turkey, was quoted as saying his country would not permit the United States to fly the U2s over Turkey.
In the meantime, U.S. intelligence experts have continued to consider a variety of means of checking up on the Soviets. A U.S. State Department official said yesterday that U2 flights "were still a possibility, although the United States is expected to rely on several surveillance methods.
The Turkish official termed the U2 flights still "a very sensitive" matter, he said the United States would have to provide Turkey with "precise information" showing that the proposed flights are "in line with the letter and spirit' of SALT before the Turkish government could approve them.
And, said the official, the United States must assure that the Soviets agree with that assessment.
U.S. officials maintain the proposed overflights are entirely in accord with SALT provisions on verification, but have been unable to give Turkey written assurances the flights are acceptable to Moscow.