NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday that he is “confident” the alliance will find a solution with Turkey and admit Sweden and Finland into its folds.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan sparked international frustration last month when he said he would block the admittance of Stockholm and Helsinki into NATO over claims the Nordic nations were housing individuals he has deemed “terrorists” over their ties to Kurdish extremist groups.
Stoltenberg called Turkey an “important ally” and pointed to its involvement in fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq – though the fight against the Islamic extremist group in the Middle East also gets directly to the core of Ankara’s frustrations with NATO.
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Erdogan has accused Sweden and Finland, as well as top NATO nations like the U.S., of turning a blind eye to “harassment” its claims to have endured from members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The PKK has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S., the European Union and Turkey.
But the group’s relation to Western-backed forces affiliated with the PKK fighting ISIS in Syria under the People’s Protection Forces (YPG) has angered Turkey.
“When they raise concerns of course we sit down and we look into how we can find a united way forward,” Stoltenberg told reporters from a briefing with Secretary of State Antony Blinken Wednesday. “I’m in close contact with President Erdogan of Turkey and with the leaders of Finland and Sweden, and I will convene senior officials from all three countries in Brussels in the coming days.”
The NATO chief did not say how ongoing talks between the three nations have progressed since Erdogan first said he would block the expansion of NATO, but instead he highlighted the importance that all member nations have their security concerns addressed.
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The U.S. and NATO allies have championed the Sweden and Finland bids to join the military alliance as a significant step in bolstering security in the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
The war, which has dragged on significantly longer than Western officials believe Russia thought it would, has caused the greatest security crisis in Europe since World War II.
Putin has long viewed NATO as a chief threat to Russia and has claimed its presence near its borders was a contributing factor to his illegal invasion of Ukraine.
“President Putin wanted less NATO. He’s getting more NATO, more troops and more NATO members,” Stoltenberg told reporters.
The U.S., Germany and other allies have vowed in recent days to send even more security assistance to Ukraine to help Kyiv defeat Russia.
“It’s not so much a question of deterring Russia at this point because they have committed the aggression,” Blinken said. “What we’re working to do…is to make sure that the Ukrainians have in hand what they need to defend against this aggression, to repel it, to push it back. And as a result to make sure that they have the strongest possible hand at any negotiating table.”