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Analyses Last Updated: Nov 1, 2019 - 2:53:41 PM

Nuclear Weapons and Turkey Since 1959
By William Burr, National Security Archive, 30/10/19
Oct 31, 2019 - 11:30:57 AM

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Washington, D.C., October 30, 2019 – The current crisis with Turkey over Syria has raised questions, yet to be resolved, about the security of 50 U.S. nuclear weapons stored at Incirlik Air Base. These questions have been posed before, going back almost to the start of nuclear deployments in Turkey in 1959.  How the United States responds carries implications for the region, for U.S.-Turkey relations, and for NATO. Today, the National Security Archive is posting a selection of declassified documents from various sources, including the Digital National Security Archive, in order to provide historical context to the situation.

The facts of nuclear deployments in Turkey have been an official secret for decades, but it is no secret that they are a legacy and a relic of the Cold War. It is also no secret that the deployments caused anxiety in Washington when the U.S.-Turkish nuclear relationship began in the late 1950s. For example, according to a declassified memorandum of conversation in late 1960s staffers with the congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE) told State Department officials that they saw a “real threat in Turkey” because of the possibility that leaders of an Army coup “might seize control of one or more of the inadequately protected weapons.”

The JCAE staffers also stated that they had learned that during the 1960 military coup that the Turkish “situation was so unstable that twice [Supreme Allied Commander General Lauris] Norstad almost ordered all the weapons to be evacuated.” Norstad later denied that any such thing had happened, but the JCAE remained concerned about overall stability in Turkey.

Concern about the security of U.S. nuclear weapons resurfaced in mid-1975 in the wake of the Cyprus Crisis, when Congress stopped military aid to Turkey because it had used U.S.-provided weapons systems to stage the invasion of Cyprus The Turks then began closing down U.S. military bases. During a White House meeting involving President Gerald Ford and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, JCS Chairman George Brown observed that the Turks had been behaving “responsibly,” and that some development (that remains classified) may have triggered anxiety. During the discussion of contingency planning, Schlesinger said that to avoid a “nasty incident” Washington would go to the Turkish government and say there was some “mistake” and then “get them [the weapons] out.” Brown observed that during the takeover of U.S. facilities “a couple of Turks wandered into these areas,” presumably the storage sites.

The current crisis has also raised questions about Turkey’s status as a non-nuclear weapons state. In a recent speech Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained about the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and asked why Turkey did not have nuclear weapons: “This I cannot accept.” Declassified information from the 1960s indicates that as far back as 1966, according to reports from U.S. diplomats in Ankara, some Turkish senior officials were interested in a nuclear weapons capability. The science officer at the embassy reported that General Refik Tulga, a participant in the 1960 military coup, and Professor Omer Inonu, a professor of physics at the Middle East Technical University, had asked officials at the General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration to look into possibilities for developing an “atomic bomb.” So far as can be told, the research did not move forward probably because of the complex political, scientific, and technological hurdles that stood in the way, just as they do now.

Much of the history of U.S. nuclear deployments in Turkey remains classified, for example the initial decisions to deploy gravity bombs to Turkey and the decisions to keep them there after the Cold War ended. Nevertheless, enough information is in the public record to identify the types of nuclear weapons that the U.S. deployed and when they were introduced. The public record also includes information concerning the deployments of Honest John and Jupiter missiles.[1] Archival records shed light on such details as the plans for a gravity bomb storage facility at Eskişehir air base. In addition, the records illuminate the consideration given to deployments of atomic demolition munitions (ADMs) that never transpired.

The deployments of nuclear weapons to Turkey that began in the late 1950s were part of the NATO Atomic Stockpile plan in which the U.S. would provide nuclear weapons delivery systems to allies and concurrently train their forces in the use of the weapons.[2] The United States retained formal custody and control of the weapons, although sometimes who actually controlled them was ambiguous, until the Kennedy administration began to tighten arrangements. In the case of Turkey, declassified documents indicate some of the difficulties encountered in training non-English speakers in the basics of nuclear technology and the use of nuclear weapons systems. According to a State Department official, the Turks were unable to “use the manuals and other training data to be communicated until they had mastered the rudiments of English.” Those problems would be resolved over time.


Read the Documents


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Document 01
Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Atomic Energy), History of the Custody and Deployment of Nuclear Weapons July 1945 Through September 1977, February 1978, Top Secret, Excised copy, Excerpt
Source: Freedom of Information Act request
An excised table in a Department of Defense history provides the starting years for of U.S. nuclear deployments in the NATO countries. The names of the countries are excised, except for the United Kingdom and West Germany, but the alphabetical order of the list makes it possible to identify Turkey, right before the United Kingdom. As Italy and Turkey were the only deployment sites for Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), the identification of Turkey is a certainty. Besides the Jupiters, deployed during 1961-1963, the United States also deployed gravity bombs beginning in February 1959, Honest John missiles in May 1959, and 8-inch Howitzers in June 1965.

This report, released by the Defense Department in excised form in 1999, provided the first detailed information about the scope of overseas U.S. nuclear weapons deployments during the Cold War. William Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and this writer used the details to fill in the excised blanks and identify each country where nuclear weapons were deployed. An article in the November—December 1999 issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “Where They Were and a follow-up, “How Much Did Japan Know” in the January-February 2000 issue, reported on the findings.


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Document 02
Memorandum from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Nathan Twining to the Secretary of Defense, “[Excised phrase] Defense of the Turkish Straits,” 16 January 1958, Top Secret, Excised copy
Source: National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records [RG 59], Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Atlantic Political and Military Affairs, Records Relating to NATO, 1957-1964, Box 1, Turkey
As part of the U.S. response to diplomatic and political challenges raised by Sputnik and the developing Soviet capability to produce ICBMs, the U.S. accelerated plans to deploy nuclear weapons in NATO countries and developed programs to train allied forces in their use. This excised memorandum by JCS Chairman Twining indicates that Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Lauris Norstad made the initial recommendation for an Honest John deployment to Turkey.

The first surface-to-surface missile developed for the U.S. Army, the Honest John was an unguided “point and shoot” missile with a range of 12 miles. For use by front-line troops, its purpose was to provide “close support” in combat with Warsaw Pact forces.

The U.S. Military Assistance Program would provide the Honest Johns to Turkey. According to JCS thinking, U.S. Army detachments would have initial responsibility for the deployment but they would train an “indigenous” unit in the use of the missiles.

The excised phrase in the subject line is probably “Ground Atomic Support Command,” which is included in document 4.


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Document 03
Defense Department message to USNMR [U.S. National Military Representative], Paris, France, DEF 936389, 1 February 1958, Secret, Excised copy
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Atlantic Political and Military Affairs, Records Relating to NATO, 1957-1964, Box 1, Turkey
Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Mansfield Sprague sent Norstad a message with the basics of the Twining proposal, asking the SACEUR for his comments.


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Document 04
Defense Department message to SACEUR [Supreme Allied Commander Europe], DEF 939055, 26 March 1958, Secret
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Atlantic Political and Military Affairs, Records Relating to NATO, 1957-1964, Box 1, Turkey
Sprague’s office informed SACEUR Norstad that it had approved his plan for “Ground Atomic Support Command for Defense of Turkish Straits." The U.S. Military Assistance Program would provide the missiles for a Turkish Honest John Battalion. “The atomic support of this battalion will be provided in accordance with the principles of the NATO Atomic Stockpile concept.” Thus, the Turks would own the delivery system while the U.S. would retain custody of the nuclear warheads. According to the Department of Defense history, the Honest Johns were deployed in May 1959.


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Document 05
Policy Planning Staff memorandum, “IRBMs to Turkey,” 5 February 1959, Top Secret
Source: RG 59, Policy Planning Staff Records, 1957-1961. Lot 67D548. Box 204, Owen, H. Chron
The NATO Atomic Stockpile Plan eventually included deployments of Jupiter IRBMs in Italy and Turkey. The plans moved forward during 1959-1961, but some State Department officials, such as Henry Owen of the Policy Planning Staff, had serious doubts about their wisdom, especially with regard to Turkey. In a top-secret memorandum, Owen wrote that the missiles “once deployed, would represent a standing commitment which could not easily be recalled if an irresponsible Turkish government came to power.” With Turkish access to the missiles, “we would have given Turkey more or less indefinitely continuing power to start general war by firing IRBM's in haste or error.”

In early 1959, West Germany was under consideration as a possible deployment site and Owen was just as dubious about that country as he was about Turkey. For either, he saw a “risk of accidental war, of the missiles being fired in reaction to a mistaken judgment that Soviet attack impends or to a local action whose scope we wished to confine.” Owen’s doubts notwithstanding, on 28 October 1959, the U.S. and Turkey signed an agreement for a deployment beginning during the third quarter of 1961.


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Document 06
Letter from John Y. Millar, Office of European Regional Affairs, to V. Lansing Collins, Counselor, U.S. Embassy Ankara, 16 February 1960, Secret
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Atlantic Political and Military Affairs, Records Relating to NATO, 1957-1964, Box 5, Turkey 144B Agreement
Under the Atomic Energy Act, training non-U.S. military units in nuclear operations required special 144b agreements, which the U.S. and Turkey had signed in 1959. Implementing the 144b required specific understandings and arrangements in which a key player was the Joint Atomic Information Exchange Group. The JAIEG, directed by the AEC’s Division of Military Applications and the Defense Department, made decisions on transfers of sensitive atomic energy information to foreign governments. As of February 1960, arrangements with Germany had priority and there were problems in making progress with Turkey because of apparent difficulties in English-language communication by Turkish officers. According to Millar, they were unable to “use the manuals and other training data to be communicated until they had mastered the rudiments of English.”


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Document 07
Letter from V. Lansing Collins to Russell Fessenden, Office of European Regional Affairs, 10 June 1960, Confidential
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Atlantic Political and Military Affairs, Records Relating to NATO, 1957-1964, Box 5, Turkey 144B Agreement
The communications problem that Millar cited (Document 6), among others, such as a lagging “state of training” in nuclear matters, remained an issue. Collins wanted to know exactly what the Turks needed to do so he could help them and get the 144b agreement implemented.


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Document 08
Letter from John Y. Millar, Office of European Regional Affairs, to V. Lansing Collins, Counselor, U.S. Embassy Ankara, 24 June 1960, Secret [Transcript attached]
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Atlantic Political and Military Affairs, Records Relating to NATO, 1957-1964, Box 5, Turkey 144B Agreement
Millar filled Collins on some of the problems that had to be resolved before progress could be made on 144b arrangements. One was that the Turks had not constructed the “Type C” facility, which would be used for storing gravity bombs, slated for Eskisehir air base. Moreover, the Turkish pilots who were receiving Light Bomber [L.B.] training “in the pre-Restricted Data stage were so weak in English that they had to be taken off this training” so they could learn English. Moreover, there were still decisions to be made by SHAPE [Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe] on exactly what capability Turkish air squadrons should have.


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Document 09
Memorandum of Conversation, “Meeting with Three Members and Staff of Joint Committee on Atomic Energy: Nuclear Test Negotiations, MRBM Project and Report of JCAE Trip to Europe,” 29 December 1960, Secret
Source: RG 59, Decimal Files 1960-1963, 397.5611-GE/12-2960
Early in 1960, members of the congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE) had made a trip to U.S. nuclear storage sites in NATO Europe and had come away unsettled about perceived weaknesses in U.S. control over nuclear weapons. One of the Committee’s takeaways was the “possibility that in a politically unstable country … the leaders of an Army coup might seize control of one or more of the inadequately protected weapons and use them to threaten rival forces or the existent government.” According to the Committee staff, “This is a real threat in Turkey” because “the situation was so unstable that twice General Norstad almost ordered all the weapons to be evacuated.”

The JCAE was also troubled by the possibility that “host nationals might seize.the weapons from U.S. custodians and use them.” A statement by a Turkish general during a cocktail party was concerning because he criticized NATO for being a “defensive alliance,” when it should go on the offensive and immediately “launch a preemptive war.”


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Document 10
Letter from Raymond L. Thurston, Political Adviser, SHAPE, to Russell Fessenden, Office of European Regional Affairs, 11 January 1961, enclosing memorandum for the record, “General Norstad’s Comments on December 29 State-JCAE Meeting,” Secret
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of European Regional Affairs. Records of the NATO Adviser, 1957-1961, box 1, 19a. MRBM Force and Expanded Stockpile Proposals, Vol. II
A record of the meeting with JCAE members and staff was pouched to Paris where General Norstad saw a copy. He pushed back against several points made by the Committee staff, including the point about the situation during the coup. According to Norstad, the Committee “had asked what precautionary measures had been taken at the time of the coup, and was informed matter of factly that the routinely prepared contingency plans for such an evacuation had been reviewed in routine fashion to make sure that they were up- to-date.” Norstad said he had been unaware of the internal review at the time.


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Document 11
John Y. Millar to William N. Dale, Counselor, U.S. Embassy Turkey, 15 February 1961, Secret
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of European Regional Affairs. Records of the NATO Adviser, 1957-1961, box 1, 19a. MRBM Force and Expanded Stockpile Proposals, Vol. II
Some progress had been made in making arrangements to transfer sensitive nuclear data to the Turkish military, with a Colonel Saya designated to receive “Restricted Data” under the 144b agreement. Nevertheless, U.S. top commanders in Europe had not decided what kind of nuclear capability would be assigned to Turkish forces. According to the Defense Department, the Turks wanted an “advanced atomic capability involving “extensive modification of their aircraft,” while CINCEUR Lauris Norstad wanted the Turks to have a capability that “was compatible with existing Turkish aircraft,” which would result in less delay in providing the Turks with Restricted Data. That may have been a reference to the F-100 “Super Sabres” that had been made available to the Turkish Air Force.


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Document 12
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Armin Meyer to the Under Secretary [Chester Bowles], “Control Mechanisms for IRBM’s in Turkey,”14 August 1961, Secret
Source: RG 59, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Atlantic Political and Military Affairs, Records Relating to NATO, 1953-1962, box 7, Turkey (includes Greece) Missile Systems
The concerns about the safety of nuclear-armed missiles in Turkey raised by the JCAE had an effect on higher levels of the State Department. Turkish opposition to cancelling the deployment had a decisive impact, along with uncertainties raised by the Kennedy-Khrushchev summit in Vienna, on the administration’s decisions to go ahead, but Under Secretary of State Chester Bowles wrote to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to ensure there were measures in place to “ensure that the Turks could not make effective use of IRBMs without our cooperation during the life of the weapons.” According to Armin Meyer’s summary, McNamara responded that the Pentagon was putting into effect “the best feasible methods of control” and that a group had been created to improve them. McNamara was probably referring to a two-key system and other methods of control that were being applied to the Jupiter missiles that had already been deployed in Italy.


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Document 13
Memorandum of Conversation, 14 December 1962, Top Secret
Source: RG 59, Records of the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Politico-Military Affairs, Subject Files, 1961-1963. Box 2. Memoranda (5 of 5)
The Jupiter missile deployments in Turkey (and to some degree Italy) were central to the Cuban Missile Crisis, both to instigating it–Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’ saw them as a “bone” in his throat–and to the secret Kennedy-Khrushchev agreement that resolved the crisis. While President Kennedy provided secret assurances to Khrushchev that the U.S. would remove the Jupiters, only a handful of people knew about the secret deal, and the NATO countries, included Turkey, learned nothing of it at the time.

Speaking with Turkish Defense Minister Ilhami Sancar, McNamara misled him by saying that the U.S. had refused to discuss with the Soviets the “comparability” of the Jupiters with the missiles in Cuba. He further argued that the U.S. was doing Turkey a favor by removing the dangerous and obsolete weapons and replacing them with Polaris missiles that would be deployed in the Mediterranean. Sancar expressed doubt about the wisdom of the decision: “the core of the problem was Turkey's confidence in its Ally; there must be no moral depression – either in the people or the Army.” McNamara did not agree: “he could not believe that the assignment of POLARIS missiles – clearly a more efficient system than the JUPITERs – should produce moral depression in either the people or the Army.”


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Document 14
Stuart Rockwell to Mr. [Benjamin] Read, “Turkish Interest in Atomic Weapon Development [Includes Attachment],” 6 October 1966, Secret
Source: Records of the Department of State. Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Office of the Country Director for Turkey, Records Relating to Turkey, 1964-1966. Box 12. Science and Technology-Atomic Energy
Some Turks wanted the bomb. While the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty negotiations were unfolding in Geneva, the science officer at the U.S. embassy in Ankara reported that a “reliable” source had learned that officials with the M.T.A. [General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration] “had been asked to cooperate with General [Refik] Tulga and Professor Omer Inonu (Professor of Physics at METU [Middle East Technical University]) in a Turkish program to develop an ‘Atomic Bomb.’” The science officer thought the story plausible because of Turkish interest in a 200-megawatt reactor and in uranium exploration, and the government’s delaying tactics in negotiations on peaceful uses of atomic energy.

Commenting on the Science Officer’s report, Ambassador Parker T, Hart asked that it be handled delicately but he was not overly worried that Turkey would follow the French in developing a national nuclear capability. He thought it more likely that the Turks wanted to be in a “position to jump on the bandwagon in case there should be further serious breaks in the line against proliferation.” Hart said he would be monitoring the situation but whether Inonu or Tulga went any further with their plans remains to be learned.


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Document 15
U.S. Embassy Paris telegram 4422 to State Department, “NATO Nuclear Planning Group: What Happened at Ankara,” 30 September 1967, Secret
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1967-1969, Def 12 NATO
During the late 1960s, NATO planners considered the possibility of deploying atomic demolition munitions (ADMs) in Turkey. During a Nuclear Planning Group meeting in Ankara, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara observed that with 7,000 nuclear weapons deployed to NATO Europe, it was necessary to develop “more concrete operational plans” for the specific use of nuclear weapons in “defined contingencies in a particular geographic area.”

Plans for using ADMs were an “example of this kind of planning.” In the mountainous terrain of eastern Turkey, ADMs might have an advantage compared with conventional explosives in creating barriers to halt Soviet troop movements. The ministers asked SACEUR to develop “plans for a defensive barrier system” and to analyze “the comparative advantage and justify any choices of nuclear over conventional munitions.” Turkey, the United States, and the NATO Military Committee would then review the plan for the NPG’s meeting in early spring 1968.


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Document 16
Memorandum of Conversation, “ADMs on Turkish-Soviet Border,” 12 December 1967, Secret
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1967-1969, Def 12
U.S. defense officials may have been more interested in ADM deployments than the Turks. During a lunchtime meeting with Deputy Under Secretary of State Foy Kohler, Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin said that his government had received the impression from Turkish officials that “they were being pushed by the Americans” to accept deployments of atomic demolition munitions close to the Soviet border. The Soviet Foreign Ministry’s Turkish desk wanted to protest this but the U.S. desk held that off until more senior officials reviewed the matter. Dobrynin said that the Turkish desk proposal had been rejected because the U.S. and Turkey probably had “50-50” responsibility for the matter.

Kohler said that he did not want to discuss an issue involving an ally but he reminded Dobrynin that “our policy had been to keep control of nuclear weapons ourselves within the Alliance and not to proliferate them.”


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Document 17
Secretary of State William P. Rogers to the President, “The State of European Thinking about the NATO Tactical Nuclear Weapons Issue,” 30 January 1969, Secret, Excised copy.
Source: Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library, NSC Files, box 955, Haig Chron Feb. 1-15, 1969 (1 of 2)
This overview of tactical nuclear weapons in NATO Europe at the beginning of the Nixon administration excises the names of several countries but the discussion of ADMs is interesting because it reviews the intra-NATO debate over whether the “unique … defensive character” of ADMs made “some form of predelegation” possible and necessary. Where Turkey stood on that debate remains to be learned but, according to Secretary of State Rogers, “the US has made quite clear that we were not prepared to predelegate authority to military commanders either to emplace or use ADM's.” In other words, direct presidential control would not be compromised in this instance.


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Document 18
Letter from Wolfgang J. Lehman, Political Adviser, European Command, to Ronald J. Spiers, Director, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, 5 January 1973, Secret
Source: RG 59, Subject-Numeric Files, 1970-1973, DEF 12
William Lehman’s report to Ronald Spiers indicates that with respect to Turkey the ADM issue remained unresolved. While the U.S. government was willing to offer Programs of Cooperation on ADMs to Greece, Italy, and Turkey, whether they went further depended on whether West Germany was willing to accept ADMs in the NATO nuclear sharing system. The Germans were not preferring that they remain under U.S. control. As for Turkey, “the Turkish position [on ADMs] has not yet changed,” as Turkish officials “made clear at SHAPE.” That said, “Turks have also stated their interest in a thorough review of their position.” Wherever the particular discussions went, the U.S. never deployed ADMs in Turkey, as indicated in document 1.


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Document 19
Foreign and Commonwealth Office telegram 817 to British Embassy Ankara, 20 July 1974, Confidential
Source: The British National Archives. Foreign Commonwealth Office, Southern European Department. FCO 9 / 1895. Title: Military Coup in Cyprus - Saturday July 20th, File Number: WSC 1/10 (Part F) (copy courtesy of Gregory Graves)
After the Greek military junta staged a coup to overthrow President Makarios, on 20 July 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus to prevent a takeover by Athens. With these developments roiling U.S. relations with both Greece and Turkey, Henry Kissinger sent Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco to Ankara to try to contain the conflict. The security of the nuclear weapons was an enduring concern and during a telephone conversation with British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan, Kissinger assured him that “nuclear weapons in Greece and Turkey had been secured.”

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Document 20
Memorandum of Conversation, “Soviet Grain; [Excised phrase] in Turkey; Personnel; Budget,” 9 August 1975, Secret, Excised copy

Source: Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, National Security Adviser. Memoranda of Conversation, box 14, August 9, 1975 - Ford, Schlesinger, General Brown
Security of nuclear weapons remained a concern. In February 1975, over the objections of the Ford administration, Congress sanctioned Ankara by halting military assistance. Under domestic pressure to retaliate, the Turkish government closed down U.S. installations in Turkey, except Incirlik and Izmir air bases because they had NATO missions, and asked for negotiations over the future of U.S. military facilities. In that context, some unknown development raised questions about the security of the nuclear deployments, which became the subject of a discussion between President Ford and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger.

There may have been some concern that Turkish forces would seize the area at Incirlik where the U.S. stored nuclear weapons. To avoid a “nasty incident,” Schlesinger proposed that Washington go to the Turkish government and say that there was some “mistake” and then “get them out.” JCS chairman George Brown observed that during the takeover of U.S. facilities “a couple of Turks wandered into these areas.” Brown indicated that if the U.S. officer in charge of the deployment site were unable to communicate with the outside, he “has the discretion to start shooting.” Brown wanted to change the instructions “unless it was an obvious raid.” Brown later observed, apparently referring to the Turks, that “so far they have acted very responsibly.”

The Turkish government made no moves against the nuclear weapons, but Congress kept the embargo going until 1978, when Turkey restored access by U.S. forces to military facilities.

Source:Ocnus.net 2019

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