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NATO chief talks Sweden, Finland membership with Erdogan

June 4, 2022

The talks represent the latest attempt to work past the roadblock Ankara has put up over Sweden and Finland joining the military alliance.

Flags of NATO, Sweden and Finland
Sweden and Finland applied to join the Western defence alliance last month in response to Russia's invasion of UkraineImage: Sascha Steinach/IMAGO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Saturday he had held a "constructive phone call" with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over membership bids by Sweden and Finland.

Stoltenberg also met with Finland's prime minister in an effort to work past the roadblock Ankara has put up over the Nordic countries joining the military alliance.

A unanimous vote from all 30 NATO members is required for a new country to be accepted.

Why does Turkey oppose Sweden and Finland joining NATO?

Turkey, a member of NATO since 1952, is using its veto power in the membership vote to force policy changes from Sweden and Finland.

Turkey is demanding both countries:

  • stop perceived support for ethnic Kurdish groups Ankara considers to be terrorists;
  • lift arms embargoes put in place after Turkish incursions into Syria;
  • extradite Turks granted political asylum in Sweden and Finland following a failed coup in 2016.

Ankara says it will not change its opposition to either country's bid until it sees "concrete steps" on its demands.

Erdogan has said NATO could not provide protection from terror, citing events organised by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group in allied countries.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

A spokesman for Turkey's president said Ankara feels no pressure to see the bids advanced by the time NATO leaders convene for a June 29-30 summit in Spain.

Turkey has irked other NATO allies, most specifically the US, through its incursion into Syria and its purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems. The US had specifically warned it against doing so and it resulted in Washington refusing to sell Turkey advanced F-35 fighter jets.

Sweden's defense minister: 'We are not naïve'

Why do Sweden and Finland want to join NATO?

Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last month, spurred by Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Seeking admission to the military alliance.upended decades of non-alignment policy.

A top US general said Saturday that their joining would put Russia in a difficult military position in the Baltic Sea.

"The Baltic Sea is very strategically important, it's one of the great seaways of the world," General Mark Milley said during a visit to Stockholm ahead of a military exercise.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said that Germany was doing everything possible to make the bids succeed.

US President Joe Biden has also come out in support of Sweden and Finland joining NATO.

Secretary-General Stoltenberg tweeted late Friday that he had also met with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin while in Washington last week. He said the two spoke of "the need to address Turkey's concerns and move forward" with the membership applications.

Finland to apply for NATO membership

jsi/rt (AP, Reuters)