Turkey, Finland, Sweden hold talks on NATO membership impasse

Turkey, Finland, Sweden hold talks on NATO membership impasse

Finnish and Swedish leaders met Turkey’s Erdogan ahead of the NATO summit to try to get him to drop objections to them joining the military alliance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain on June 28, 2022 [Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office Handout via Reuters]

Published On 28 Jun 202228 Jun 2022

Ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid, the leaders of Finland and Sweden have met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a bid to have him drop objections to them joining the military alliance.

The Nordic leaders voiced optimism on Tuesday that the Turkish president might lift his veto on their bid to join the alliance as the organisation 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,” Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said.

“We are prepared for something positive to happen today, but also for it to take more time,” she added. “We must be patient and continue discussions even after the summit.”

Finland’s Niinisto said he was neither “optimistic nor pessimistic at this stage”.

With negotiations set to continue into the evening, Turkey, Sweden and Finland agreed to prepare a joint memorandum to address Ankara’s concerns over NATO membership, two Finnish newspapers, Helsingin Sanomat and Iltalehti, reported. Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.

Ankara has objected to Sweden and Finland’s bid to join NATO based on what it considers to be the Nordic pair’s lax approach toward groups Turkey deems national security threats. Turkey can essentially prevent Finland and Sweden from joining NATO since all members of the military bloc must agree to taking on new members.

Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull said Erdogan has a “shopping list of potential demands and concessions” in return for facilitating the Nordic pair’s membership bid.

“It is clear that Erdogan sees in all of this an opportunity to extract crucial concessions from the Nordics and also from other allies,” he said, speaking from Madrid.

“He wants to see an easing of an arms embargo put in place over Turkey’s incursion in northwest Syria in 2019, and there’s a question mark over Washington’s continued support for YPG fighters in northern Syria, supported by the US,” Hull explained. There is also the matter of the US-built F-16 fighter jets that were promised under the Trump administration but not yet delivered.

The White House confirmed that United States President Joe Biden would meet the Turkish leader during the summit that starts later on Tuesday and runs until Thursday, although it was unclear how far Biden would go to break the impasse, three NATO diplomats said.

Other NATO allies, including France and Spain, have indirectly urged Turkey to yield on its block of the two potential new Nordic members.

Speaking at the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Germany, French President Emmanuel Macron called for a message of “unity and of force” from NATO in Madrid.

Erdogan has accused Finland and more particularly Sweden of offering a safe haven to Kurdish militants who have been waging a decades-long armed uprising against the Turkish state.

The Turkish leader has also called on the two countries to lift arms embargoes imposed on Turkey in 2019 over Ankara’s military offensive in Syria.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain on June 28, 2022 [Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office Handout via Reuters]

On Monday, Erdogan said he wanted to see the results of preparatory talks held in Brussels before deciding whether Sweden and Finland had done enough to lift his objections to their membership of NATO.

“We will see what point they [Finland and Sweden] have reached,” he said on Monday before flying to Madrid for the summit.

“We do not want empty words. We want results.”

‘Interest of the alliance’

In addition to Finland and Sweden’s membership bids in the 30-member military alliance, the three-day NATO summit in Madrid will also discuss the Ukraine-Russia war and NATO’s new strategic concept.

Erdogan is expected to meet Biden on Wednesday on the sidelines of the gathering focused on responding to the Kremlin’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the US was not adopting a “brokering role” with Turkey and would leave the NATO secretary-general in charge of the negotiations.

“Rather, we’re going to do what many other allies have done, which is indicate publicly and privately that we believe it is in the interest of the alliance to get this done,” he added.

“And we also believe that Finland and Sweden have taken significant steps forward in terms of addressing Turkey’s concerns.”

Analysts believe the meeting between Erdogan and Biden could play a crucial role in breaking down Turkey’s resistance to the membership bids by Sweden and Finland.

The two leaders have had a chilly relationship since Biden’s election because of US concerns about human rights under Erdogan.

Biden and Erdogan last met briefly in October on the sidelines of a Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Rome.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies