US to press Turkey as Finland, Sweden hopes for NATO breakthrough
HELSINKI / MADRID – NATO-hopeful Finland and Sweden expressed optimism on Tuesday that Turkey may lift its veto over its halted attempt to join the military alliance at a summit in Madrid, where US President Joe Biden will meet his Turkish counterpart.
The White House confirmed that Biden will meet with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during the summit, which begins later on Tuesday and runs until Thursday, and two NATO diplomats said they expected Washington to try to break the dead end.
Turkey’s unexpected objections to the two Nordic countries’ membership application, which, if successful, would be the biggest change in European security in decades, threaten to overshadow a summit seeking unity when Russia goes to war in Ukraine.
“The general perception is that the discussions went slightly better, which should mean that understanding has increased somewhat on both sides,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told reporters in Helsinki, referring to talks between diplomats.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde went further and told Svenska Dagbladet (SvD): “We are prepared for something positive to happen today, but it can also take longer.”
Erdogan will meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto around 1400 GMT in Madrid.
“We hope to make progress,” Stoltenberg said.
Ankara’s main demands are that the Nordic countries stop supporting Kurdish militant groups in their territory and lift their ban on certain arms sales to Turkey.
These conditions are now the subject of intense diplomacy as NATO allies seek to seal accession in record time as a way to consolidate their response to Russia, especially in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give the alliance military superiority.
In the Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already members of NATO. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, which Moscow says is a “special operation”, helped topple decades of opposition to NATO membership in Sweden.
NO MORE “PUT THE BALL AROUND”
Before leaving for Madrid, Erdogan in Ankara maintained his position, saying that Turkey wanted action, not words, to address its concerns, adding that he would also push Biden on a purchase of F-16 fighter jets. .
“We want results. We are tired of sending the ball around in midfield. From now on, they produce words,” Erdogan said at the airport.
Erdogan said he had spoken to Biden on Tuesday morning ahead of the planned meeting in Madrid and that he would explain Turkey’s position to allies at the summit and in bilateral meetings.
He said he would discuss with Biden the issue of Ankara’s procurement of Russia’s S-400 air defense systems – leading to US sanctions – and a request to buy 40 F-16 jets and modernization kits from Washington, as well as other bilateral issues.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said NATO needed to focus more on “the fight against terrorism in all its forms”, which “also applies to the candidate countries.”
Other allies, including France and Spain, indirectly urged Turkey to give in. When French President Emmanuel Macron spoke at the summit of the seven groups in Germany, NATO called for a message of “unity and power” in Madrid.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who stood next to Stoltenberg, said there was no alternative but to let in Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (810 km) border with Russia and Sweden.
“We are convinced that if not now, it will be later, but eventually they will join the Atlantic Alliance,” Sanchez told reporters. (Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, Andrea Shalal and John Irish in Schloss Elmau in Germany, Simon Johnson in Stockholm, Belen Carreno in Madrid, authored by Robin Emmott, edited by Tomasz Janowski)