ISTANBUL, TURKEY -- While the Iran-contra scandal may have begun to recede in U.S. minds in view of fresher preoccupations with the Soviet summit meeting, the affair is reverberating here as the Turkish press reports that this ally of Washington was used in the secret arms trade with Iran.
"CIA duped Turkey?" was a typical recent headline in the mass circulation Istanbul daily Hurriyet, on an article alleging that U.S. arms for Iran crossed Turkish airspace without the government being fully informed.
Other stories, based on last month's congressional Iran-contra report, alleged the bribery of Turkish officials and claimed that Turkey was the unnamed "16th country" referred to in the notebooks of Lt. Col. Oliver North, the fired National Security Council aide.
Prime Minister Turgut Ozal has claimed that he protested to the United States in 1985, when the first of the arms flights crossed Turkish airspace unannounced. Communications Minister Ihsan Pekel has ordered an investigation into the reports that North bribed Ankara air traffic control officials to ignore questionable flights.
But other Turkish officials have said simply that it has not always been possible for Turkey to know what goes on at U.S. bases in the country, even though they are under the command of the Turkish military.
Turkey is a strongly prowestern member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bordering the Soviet Union, and the issue has failed to spark the sort of national protests against U.S. bases that have occurred in Greece and Spain for different reasons. Nevertheless, Turkish officials and some U.S. diplomats here expressed concern.
"Our relations with Ankara over the bases here are always delicate," said one U.S. official, who requested anonymity. "What they didn't need was one more accusation that Washington was abusing its relationship with Turkey.
"Whether or not Irangate proves damaging to the administration in Washington, the reactions here show how unthought-out and unprofessional were the policies" of the National Security Council, the official said. To ship arms to Tehran, they potentially risked antagonizing one of Washington's key allies in the strategic eastern Mediterranean, he added.
According to investigative reports from Washington by Hurriyet and the left-of-center Cumhuriyet newspapers, at least three of the five U.S. arms flights to Tehran in 1985 and 1986 crossed Turkish airspace.
In two cases, allegedly involving shipment of TOW antitank missiles on Aug. 20 and Sept. 14, 1985, the papers said there was no evidence of prior Turkish approval. A third was said to have been approved, but with a false declaration of cargo.
The third U.S. chartered plane, a DC8, flew over Turkey to Iran on Nov. 24, 1985, allegedly carrying a cargo of "oil drilling equipment," but actually loaded with TOWs and Hawk antiaircraft missile parts. According to the Turkish accounts, the original plan was to fly via Portugal.
But the Portuguese authorities apparently refused to allow their airspace to be used. As a fallback, Hurriyet and Cumhuriyet reported, North conceived of a plan whereby the planes would fly west out of Israel into the Mediterranean, over the Greek portion of the divided island of Cyprus, then curve into Turkish airspace and cross into Iran, landing at Tabriz.
The newspapers have reported, citing congressional committee reports, that North paid out a total of $147,000 to a number of people in the "16th country," allegedly Turkey, to approve the overflight.
When the pilot of the plane responded to a Turkish air-control query about his cargo by stating that it was "military equipment" instead of the "oil-drilling equipment" previously agreed to, angered Turkish officials allegedly protested to the CIA station chief in Ankara, who had originally made the arrangements for the flight.