Secretary of State James Baker took his quick tour of NATO countries to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea Tuesday and gained what was described as support for the U.S. view that short-range nuclear missiles in Europe should be upgraded.
On a flight to Athens from Ankara, Turkey, a senior administration official told reporters that in talks including Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, the Turkish government told Baker it "supports modernization" of the weapons.The issue is a major point in Baker's six-day tour of 14 nations to introduce President Bush's foreign policy to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The secretary of state spent about two hours on the ground in Ankara before stopping briefly in Athens and flying to Rome in his fourth day of travel. He talked of how Bush's policies will differ from President Reagan's, including what he described as more prompt and thorough U.S. consultation with NATO.
According to U.S. officials, one of the issues brought up repeatedly to Baker is the recent political and public relations progress by the Soviet Union.
Baker has argued that the changes that are winning the Kremlin favor have come under Western pressure for political liberalization, respect for human rights and a reduction in Soviet conventional military forces in Europe, according to one of the U.S. officials participating in the talks.
In Ankara, Baker heard the Turks raise three familiar concerns - objections to congressional resolutions referring to the alleged massacre of Armenians by Turkish troops 75 years ago, the Turkish desire for U.S. support in the fight with Greece over Cyprus, and general relations between Greece and Turkey.
Following a 30-minute talk with Ozal, Baker told reporters of "interesting" discussions with Ozal and Foreign Minister Mesut Yilmaz.
Yilmaz praised "the gesture of the new U.S. administration to consult with the allies so promptly" and said he believed Baker would be an asset for the strengthening of relations between the two countries.
The Mediterranean swing gave Baker another chance to promote a summit among NATO leaders this spring. U.S. officials report general consensus so far that such a meeting, perhaps as early as late May in Brussels, Belgium, would be a good opportunity to follow up on the secretary's introductory tour.
Baker emphasized that introductory tone throughout three days of travel to Iceland, Britain, West Germany, Denmark and Norway Saturday through Monday.