Turkey allows US marines to use air base as transit point
A decision by Turkey's outgoing military government to grant facilities to the American members of the multinational peacekeeping force in Lebanon has aroused controversy here. The Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed Friday that the agreement had just gone into effect.
The accord allows the United States to use the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey as a transit station for the US marines and for the landing and refueling of US transport planes.
It does not mean Turkey will let the US use Turkish bases for its Rapid Deployment Force in the future.
Turkey's acceptance of what officials here call ''limited services'' to the US peace-keeping force is regarded as a move of political importance.
Analysts say it shows Turkey's support for the US military presence in Lebanon and risks Turkish involvement in the Middle East conflict, although on a limited scale. Critics express concern that such involvement could damage Turkey's relations with Arab countries.
But officials say this does not constitute a change of Turkey's Mideast policy. A Foreign Ministry official said the agreement does not indicate that Turkey ''supports all aspects of US policy on the Mideast,'' or that ''this is a commitment'' for such support.
Officials rule out the possibility of Turkish involvement in the Mideast, pointing out that Turkey has reserved the right to terminate the agreement at any time. If the Lebanese government decides it objects to the presence of the peace-keeping force or if one of the nations in the multinational force decides to withdraw, Turkey can end the agreement.
The US servicemen using the bases will have to wear civilian clothes and may not carry firearms. No more than 500 US servicemen are to use the facilities per month.
The accord grants US warships port facilities for the recreational needs of the servicemen and bars the transit of any weapons to Lebanon.
The Turkish government refused to grant such facilities to the US in September 1982, when the first unit of the peacekeeping force was sent to Lebanon. In the past Turkey refrained from making any commitment that would hurt relations with Arab countries.
Its position had been that no military base on Turkish soil could be used for operations other than for NATO purposes.
Officials say the main reason for the change of attitude is that the force is in Lebanon at the request of the legitimate Lebanese government and that moderate Arab countries feel its presence is necessary. They say there is no reason the Arab world and the Soviets should react negatively, since the accord gives only ''very limited facilities.''
Observers here say the main reason for this change of attitude is the recent declaration of independence by Turkish Cypriots. The Turks hope their cooperation with the US will impress the US Congress and avert any cuts in aid to Turkey because it supports the Turkish-Cypriot declaration.
The transit point agreement comes during a period of transition for Turkey. After more than three years in power, Turkey's ruling generals handed over authority Dec. 7 to the newly elected Parliament. Turgut Ozal, whose Motherland Party won the most seats in the Nov. 6 elections, takes over as prime minister.