Erdogan weighs in on Nordic countries’ NATO bids

Finland and Sweden could join the bloc separately, Turkish leader said, as Ankara’s now ready to support only Finland’s request

Türkiye is now ready to greenlight Finland’s entry into NATO but is not prepared to do the same for Sweden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, suggesting that the two Nordic countries could join the alliance at separate times.

Speaking at a press conference in Prague, the Turkish leader revealed that Ankara’s relations with Finland “are different from those with Sweden.” In Erdogan’s opinion, “Finland is not a country where terrorists are roaming freely,” while Sweden is “a place where terror is rampant.”

“So, regarding Finland and Sweden, NATO will have to make a decision. If they make a decision that is in favor of Finland, of course we will do everything that we are required to,” Erdogan said.

His remarks came on the same day that Finnish Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen confirmed that his country would forge a path towards NATO together with its “close partner Sweden.”

The Turkish government, which had initially opposed Finland and Sweden’s accession, agreed to formally back their bids in late June. This became possible after Stockholm and Helsinki signed a ten-point agreement pledging to respond to extradition requests, remove export controls and cease support for the groups Ankara considers terrorist. Among such groups are Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) activists who sought asylum in the two Nordic states, as well as followers of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the US.

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Sweden reveals complication in NATO talks

Since July, both Sweden and Finland have taken a number of steps to secure Ankara’s approval for their NATO bids. Last week, Sweden announced that it would lift an arms embargo that it had imposed on Turkey in 2019 over the country’s military operation against the Kurdish rebels in Syria.

However, negotiations between Sweden and Türkiye have apparently remained at a low point since a major setback in summer. The complications were caused by photos having emerged in July showing several Swedish MPs posing with PKK flags. 

Earlier this week, tensions mounted further after Türkiye summoned the Swedish ambassador over a TV program which Ankara considered insulting.

For a candidate nation to be accepted into NATO, the unanimous consent of all current members is needed. Besides Türkiye, only Hungary has not yet approved Helsinki and Stockholm’s accession. While Budapest has not voiced any objections to the Nordic countries’ membership, the government chose not to speed up a vote in the parliament. 

Finland and Sweden, which have been neutral countries for decades, decided to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.

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