(CNSNews.com) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reiterated his opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO unless they meet Ankara’s demands on “terrorism,” but the State Department on Tuesday voiced confidence that the two aspirants would be admitted into the alliance – and quickly.
As plans advance for this month’s NATO summit in Madrid, secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg is in Washington for talks with senior officials on Wednesday, and State Department spokesman Ned Price said Turkey’s objections would likely be on the agenda.
“Nothing has shifted our confidence in the idea that NATO accession for … Finland and Sweden has broad support within the NATO alliance and that it can be fulfilled swiftly,” he said.
While he declined to offer a timeframe, Price said “we want to see these two applicants in the NATO alliance just as soon as that process can be managed.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the Finnish and Swedish governments to consider, consult, and finally decide in conjunction with their legislatures to apply to join NATO, a reversal of long-held policies of military non-alignment.
But NATO decisions require consensus, and Erdogan placed a hurdle in their path by accusing the two countries of harboring Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) “terrorists.”
Finnish and Swedish officials have held talks with the Turks, but with little progress reported.
In an essay this week for The Economist, Erdogan wrote that the admission into NATO of Sweden and Finland “entails risks” for Turkey’s security and for the future of the alliance.
“We have every right to expect those countries, which will expect NATO’s second-largest army to come to their defense under Article 5, to prevent the recruitment, fundraising and propaganda activities of the PKK, which the European Union and America consider a terrorist entity,” he said.
“Terrorism is a threat for all members and the candidate countries should recognize this reality before joining. Unless they take necessary steps, Turkey will not change its position on this issue.”
The PKK has waged a separatist armed struggle in south-eastern Turkey for more than three decades. The U.S. has designated the group as a foreign terrorist organization, but to Erdogan’s chagrin it has allied since 2014 in the counter-ISIS campaign in Syria with Kurdish fighters, regarded by Turkey as terrorists due to their links to the PKK.
(Erdogan in recent days has been signaling the possibility of another military operation in northern Syria, with an aim of expanding a “security zone” established in a previous incursion.)
In return for its support for their NATO membership applications, Ankara wants the two Nordic governments to denounce the PKK, restrain its activities and extradite members who Turkey has charged with terror offensives.
It also wants them to lift a ban on weapons sale to Turkey, implemented in 2019 in response to Turkey’s military offensive against Kurds in Syria. (The arms sales ban was a broader E.U. decision, but Turkey’s leverage in this matter is limited to the two NATO aspirants.)
Sweden and Finland both long ago banned the PKK as a terrorist organization and deny supporting the group. Sweden in particular has sizeable minority of Kurdish immigrants (from Turkey, but also Iran, Iraq, and Syria), including political refugees. Finland’s Kurdish community is much smaller.
The Biden administration says differences must be resolved between the parties themselves.
“This is an issue, at this moment, between Turkey and Finland and Sweden and, of course, senior NATO officials, including the secretary general also have a role to play in it,” Price said.
Meanwhile the U.S. would continue to hold consultations with the Turks, other NATO allies, and the Finns and Swedes, he said.
During a visit to Spain on Monday, Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland would take part in the Madrid summit on June 28-30, noting their “historic applications to join our alliance.” He did not mention Turkey’s objections.
Stoltenberg said the summit would “chart the way ahead for the next decade” and “reset our deterrence and defense for a more dangerous world.”
Stoltenberg will hold talks in Washington Wednesday and Thursday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Sullivan spoke by phone on Monday with Erdogan’s chief advisor, Ibrahim Kalin. According to an NSC readout, he “expressed support for Turkey’s continued direct talks with Sweden and Finland to resolve concerns over their applications for NATO membership, which the U.S. strongly supports.”
After meeting with Blinken at the State Department on Friday, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Finland was engaged in an “open, direct, and constructive dialogue process” with the Turks, “to clarify all issues.”
Noting Turkey’s stated support for NATO’s “open door” policy, he expressed optimism that the problems raised by Turkey can be resolved.
“And it’s probably very important that some results could be achieved before the Madrid summit, which is an important moment for NATO and also for us as applicant countries,” Haavisto added.
Blinken said the U.S. was talking directly to the Turks about the issue.
“There is a very strong consensus in NATO for the admission of Finland and Sweden, and I remain confident that we will work through this process swiftly and that things will move forward with both countries,” he said
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