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Turkey holds firm against NATO bids by Finland and Sweden

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday doubled down on his objections to any quick accession by Finland and Sweden to NATO, as diplomats race to find a compromise with Ankara. 

“Today, we are effectıvely one of the countries that give the most support to the activities of the alliance,” Erdoğan declared, adding: “But this also does not mean that we will unquestioningly say ‘yes’ to every proposal brought before us.”

On Wednesday morning, Finland and Sweden’s ambassadors formall handed their membership requests to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. That was followed by a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s governing political body, where Turkey’s reservations meant allies did not reach the unanimity required to immediately move ahead with a formal start to the accession process.

NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg with the applications presented by Finland and Sweden to join the alliance in Brussels, on May 18, 2022 | Pool photo by Johanna Geron/AFP via Getty Images

Turkey’s leadership in recent days has argued that Finland and Sweden support Kurdish groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant organization that Ankara and others have labeled a terrorist organization, and the mainly Kurdish YPG militia in Syria.

In a speech Wednesday to his Justice and Development Party’s parliamentary group, the Turkish president said that “giving all kinds of support to the PKK/YPG terrorist organization and also asking us for support for NATO membership is, to say the least, inconsistent,” according to a transcript of his speech carried by the Anadolu news agency.

Speaking about the alleged activities of Kurdish groups in multiple European countries, the Turkish leader said Ankara had asked — to no avail — for 30 “terrorists” from Sweden. 

“You will not give us terrorists, but you will get up and ask us for NATO membership. NATO is a security formation, a security organization, so we cannot say ‘yes’ to depriving this security organization of security,” he said. 

Finnish and Swedish officials have said they are open to dialogue with Turkey, with Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde noting that her country considers the PKK a terrorist organization.

Speaking on Wednesday following a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said that “we want to have contact with Turkey and our ambition is that this be resolved as quickly as possible,” adding: “We are interested in as quick of a process as possible.”

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö, meanwhile, said that the issue will come up during a meeting later this week with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“Turkey has consistently said that they don’t see any barriers to the expansion of NATO,” the Finnish leader said.

Alliance officials insist that a compromise can be reached with Ankara. In his speech, however, the Turkish leader raised broader grievances about what he described as a lack of sufficient support from allies for Turkish security. 

“I appeal to countries that have both influence and power in the region and our allies in NATO: Come, support these legitimate, just, humanitarian and moral operatıons of Turkey. At least, don’t try to trip us up,” he said. 

NATO membership requires the support of all 30 alliance members, giving Erdoğan a powerful bargaining chip. It remains unclear what Turkey’s endgame will be in the process, but many officials and diplomats said they expected Biden’s administration to play a key role in overcoming Ankara’s objections. They expressed confidence that the two nations would ultimately join NATO.

“We are taking it day by day and hope everything goes smoothly,” said one NATO diplomat. 

A European official, meanwhile, noted that discussions are now expected at various levels and “this all needs to be solved diplomatically.”

Many allies are now pushing to find a consensus quickly.

A NATO official, speaking following the North Atlantic Council’s initial discussion, noted that Stoltenberg had already declared that Sweden and Finland were the alliance’s “closest partners” and that “their accession to NATO would strengthen Euro-Atlantic security.”

“The security interests of all Allies have to be taken into account,” the official said. “We are determined to work through all issues and reach a rapid conclusion.”

Leyla Aksu and Charlie Duxbury contributed reporting.

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