Ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid, the leaders of Finland and Sweden have met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an attempt to persuade him to drop objections to joining the military alliance.
On Tuesday, the Nordic leaders expressed optimism that the Turkish president may lift his veto on their attempt to join the alliance when the organization begins its high-level meeting in Madrid, Spain.
After landing in Madrid on Tuesday, Erdogan held more than two hours of talks with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“We have made progress. That is definitely the case,” said Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde.
“We are prepared for something positive to happen today, but also that it will take longer,” she added. “We must be patient and continue the discussions even after the summit.”
Finland’s Niinisto said he was neither “optimistic nor pessimistic at this stage”.
With the negotiations planned to continue into the evening, Turkey, Sweden and Finland agreed to prepare a joint memorandum to address Ankara’s concerns about NATO membership, two Finnish newspapers, Helsingin Sanomat and Iltalehti, reported. Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.
Ankara has opposed Sweden’s and Finland’s attempts to join NATO based on what is considered the Nordic couple’s lax attitude towards groups that Turkey considers to be a threat to national security. Turkey can in principle prevent Finland and Sweden from joining NATO, as all members of the military bloc must agree to take on new members.
The White House confirmed that US President Joe Biden would meet with the Turkish leader during the summit, which begins later on Tuesday and runs until Thursday, although it was unclear how far Biden would go to break the dead end, three NATO diplomats said.
Other NATO allies, including France and Spain, have indirectly called on Turkey to give in to its bloc of the two potential new Nordic members.
When French President Emmanuel Macron spoke at the G7 summit in Germany, NATO called for a message of “unity and power” from NATO in Madrid.
Erdogan has accused Finland, and Sweden in particular, of offering refuge to Kurdish militants who have led a decades-long armed uprising against the Turkish state.
The Turkish leader has also called on the two countries to lift the arms embargo imposed on Turkey in 2019 due to Ankara’s military offensive in Syria.
On Monday, Erdogan said he wanted to see the outcome of preparatory talks held in Brussels before deciding whether Sweden and Finland had done enough to raise his objections to their NATO membership.
“We’ll see what they point to [Finland and Sweden] has reached “, he said on Monday before flying to Madrid for the summit.
“We do not want empty words. We want results.”
In addition to Finland’s and Sweden’s applications for membership in the 30-member military alliance, the three – day NATO summit in Madrid will discuss the war between Ukraine and Russia and NATO’s new strategic concepts.
Erdogan is expected to meet with Biden on Wednesday alongside the rally, focusing on responding to the Kremlin’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbor.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One that the US did not assume a “mediating role” with Turkey and would leave NATO Secretary General in charge of the negotiations.
“Rather, we will do what many other allies have done, which shows publicly and privately that we believe it is in the Alliance’s interest to have this done,” he added.
“And we also believe that Finland and Sweden have taken significant steps forward in addressing Turkey’s concerns.”
Analysts believe that the meeting between Erdogan and Biden can play a crucial role in breaking down Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s and Finland’s membership offerings.
The two leaders have had a chilly relationship since Biden’s election due to US concerns about human rights under Erdogan.
Biden and Erdogan last met briefly in October alongside a summit of 20 (G20) in Rome.