An article yesterday about Bulgaria's denial of involvement in a papal assassination plot contained a reference to the Turkish extremist group known as the "Gray Wolves." The reference was to a wing of the organization operating in West Germany, a country with a sizable Turkish worker population. The reference to West Germany was dropped from the article inadvertently.
Assistant Secretary of State Richard R. Burt took the usual administration position on the need to boost military aid to Turkey during his visit there in April, but the Turkish press was more enthusiastic than usual about what he had said. Greece thereupon canceled Burt's major appointments in Athens.
The State Department went into overdrive for the day. Burt had to be rescheduled out of Ankara to stay longer at a speech date in Hamburg, Germany, and to drop in unexpectedly on the U.S. Embassy in Bonn.
Skipping Greece, he arrived half a day early for a hastily rearranged visit in Cyprus, where he was booed by 5,000 demonstrators. Official visits and calls had to be made in Athens to test the depth of the government's pique.
State's southern European office here had to prepare "guidance" to be inserted in the brief- ing book for the department spokesman's daily news conference, do analyses for Secretary of State George P. Shultz and draft a formal statement. Do we "regret," "deplore" or "condemn" what happened? Are we "concerned," "alarmed" or "outraged"?
In this case, the mildest terms were applied. After all, everybody is supposed to be friends here.
It was all in a day's work for U.S. diplomats, whose dealings with the Turks and their allies and enemies mirror the daily heavings of international relations wherever the guns are currently silent.
Most of the Foreign Service officers wish that they controlled events half as often as critics say that they do.
In March, members of congressional foreign policy committees were annoyed that the State Department had not notified Capitol Hill much earlier that the administration would ask for doubled military aid to Turkey. "They tried to play it down," one congresssional staff member said.
The truth, according to a Foreign Service officer, was that State was uncertain until the very last minute whether the White House, frantically rewriting its entire budget proposal, "was not going to lop off a couple of billion from the foreign-aid section."
Michael W. Cotter, 39, is the Turkish desk officer in State's southeast European office, which includes Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. That means he is U.S. information central on Turkey, the person responsible for knowing everything going on there, everything going on here that relates to Turkey and for explaining all of it to anyone who asks.
The State Department has a desk officer for every country, and each is intricately tied to regional offices, policy planning bureaus, the department's bureau of politico-military affairs, the bureau of human rights and humanitarian affairs and other bureaus on environment, international law, narcotics, refugees and international organizations. Finding people in the State Department directory is almost as hard as finding them in the labyrinthine building.
A Wisconsin native with a law degree and service in Vietnam, Bolivia, Ecuador and Turkey, Cotter is a busy man. He talks to members of Congress and their staff people who want an interpretation of the latest news. Through them, he kept track recently of the rocky progress of the administration's effort to double military aid to Turkey and passed on what he learned to the department's lobbyists in the office of legislative affairs.
Cotter gives bankers a current "risk assessment" for Turkey when they call, and they call every time Turkey is mentioned in the newspapers, he said. He, in turn, pumps them on Turkey's investment plans, financial standing and success in obtaining loans.
He talks to Turkish Embassy officials, listens to their needs and tells them what the administration is doing to help or what it hopes the Turks will do to help themselves.
Economics counselor Nabi Sensoy, information officer Murat Sungar and occasionally Yalem Eralp, the deputy chief of the Turkish mission, are Cotter's main contacts, and say--as diplomats will--that he is very helpful. Ambassador Sukru Elekdag, following protocol, speaks generally with assistant secretaries, usually Burt.
Cotter reads all cables from the U.S. Embassy in Turkey and sends some. He reads Turkish newspapers, keeps up with U.S. and other media coverage and attends diplomatic social events. He knows scholars who write about the area, business executives who deal with it and journalists who have been there. He speaks Turkish fluently.
He contributes to his office's weekly memorandum on developments in Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. The memo includes both classified and public information. Memos from every office and regional bureau in the department are condensed into a 12 to 15 page summary that goes to Shultz.
Time is a constant issue. Embassies want to know immediately, for example, how much money the U.S. government would be willing to spend on aid and trade in 1985 so that they can submit their pleas for help. But they have learned through experience that those numbers are made of rubber.
"It's a real problem for them. They're sort of flying blind on what U.S. policy will be," Cotter said.
Because of its free press, Washington is awash with potentially helpful information, far more than nearly anywhere else, according to diplomats. The problem is sifting through it.
In America, every country has a fan club of scholars, economists and journalists who write articles on current issues involving that nation. These articles become part of international discourse. Cotter and his superiors read them, politicians ponder them and the writers move in and out of government as their views shift in and out of favor.
When a crisis erupts, these outside experts provide instant background not only for Congress but for journalists and other political decision-makers whose attention is usually elsewhere.
Ellen B. Laipson is one of three Middle East analysts at the Congressional Research Service, and has focused on Turkey, Greece and Cyprus for four years. In April, she produced a 66-page analysis of internal developments there since the 1974 trade embargo on Turkey. Cotter said he hopes that the report will be basic reading for some of the people who phone him.
A pillar of the Turkey group is Paul B. Henze, a former CIA station chief in Ankara and now a consultant on international affairs and a Rand Corp. scholar. He is writing a book on the alleged link from Moscow through Bulgaria to the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II two years ago by Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk. Henze was a prime source for several journalists on that subject.
There is, Henze said, "a whole group of us, former ambassadors, military officers, academics, political people," cogent writers who specialize in Turkey and its problems and whose work appears regularly in magazines such as Foreign Policy, Commentary, The New Republic, The Nation and other serious journals.
All of them belong to a dozen or more research or aid societies for which they do studies on Turkish issues, and they are liberally quoted in the Turkish press, especially when they attack scholars supporting the Greek view.
Like their counterparts for other countries, they testify before Congress and speak abroad, often at the request of the State Department or the U.S. Information Agency. When their views disagree with the those of the administration, opposition groups are often the ones who pay for the trip.
Foreign embassies want to know every major U.S. move as far in advance as possible. President Reagan wrote personally to Turkish President Kenan Evren and to all other NATO chiefs of state to notify them a week in advance of his March 30 "Star Wars" speech, in which he announced plans for a futuristic anti-ballistic missile defense system.
Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger briefed the NATO ambassadors, including Turkish Ambassador Elekdag, on the morning of the speech, formally asking them to inform their governments. Like the others, Elekdag had a response ready, a cautious one that his subordinates had been passing out all week: the move will create a great deal of debate and must be analyzed carefully.
At the other end of Cotter's cables is the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Robert Strausz-Hupe. According to James Spain, who held that job under President Carter, U.S. envoys have two advantages over most ambassadors: they usually have instant access to top government officials, and they are in constant touch with Washington.
That may mean they do less policy-making than they used to, he said, adding, "When a policy is formed in Washington, they rarely think about the problems of implementing it in the field."
In fact, he wrote in the spring issue of Washington Quarterly, "For many foreign policy issues, the Washington decision-making process is not a good one . . . . The key figures--the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the national security adviser, the director of central intelligence--are all roughly equal in authority. One can block another--unless the issue goes to the president."
In the field, as a result, a U.S. ambassador uses his own judgment. He jousts with other envoys, courts them and competes with them for information. He is an international lawyer in arguing treaty interpretations, a financial administrator in distributing millions of dollars in aid, a construction contractor in housing his staff and a legal defense counselor, social worker and private investigator for U.S. citizens in trouble broad.
In the 1970s, Spain recalled, the U.S. Embassy had a "hippie attache" who hung out at coffee shops in Istanbul and warned shaggy tourists about Turkish drug laws and market scams. The embassy got a U.S. businessman out of jail in the early 1970s after he tore a 10-lira note in half during an airport dispute over changing money, sundering the semi-sacred picture of Turkey's modern hero, Kemal Ataturk.
Sometimes the job consists of defying the U.S. bureaucracy. During 1980 negotiations on the defense and economic cooperation agreement with Turkey on operations of five Turkish bases where U.S. forces are stationed, talks bogged down the night before the pact was to be signed. At issue was a very small question: lunch money for Turkish advisers, Spain recalled.
The advisers and teachers received only $2.50 a day for lunch from the Turkish government and wanted Uncle Sam to provide an additional $1.50. Washington refused the $30,000 item. The Turks were adamant.
"It was 2 a.m., and the whole basing agreement was hanging. I called Washington and said I might go to jail for it, but I was unilaterally surrendering," Spain said. "I never heard another word about it." Next: How to buy an airplane