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NATO pledges Turkey quake aid; appeals for Finland, Sweden

February 16, 2023

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was sending "tens of thousands of tents" to Turkey after the major quake in the country's south. He again urged Ankara to drop objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (R) shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a meeting in Ankara, on February 16, 2023.
Stoltenberg appealed for Turkey to agree to Finland and Sweden's bids to join NATOImage: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Turkey on Thursday that the military alliance would be sending "tens of thousands of tents" to the country as authorities race to offer shelter to people left homeless following last week's major earthquake

"In your time of need, NATO stands with Turkey," Stoltenberg said in talks with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. 

"This is the deadliest natural disaster on alliance territory since NATO was founded," he said, adding that NATO would use its "strategic airlift capabilities" to transport aid more swiftly. 

In Turkey alone, more than 50,000 buildings were destroyed or heavily damaged across 11 provinces by the quake. 

Stoltenberg will also visit areas affected by the quake during his trip. 

Turkey, Syria: focus of aid shifts to survivors

'The time is now to ratify both Finland and Sweden'

But Stoltenberg also repeated his appeal to Turkey to approve of Finland and Sweden's bids to join NATO. The two Nordic countries, neutral throughout the Cold War, sought membership in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine

"I continue to believe that the time is now to ratify both Finland and Sweden," Stoltenberg said. 

All existing NATO members' legislatures must ratify the entry of any potential new member.

So far, only Turkey and Hungary, arguably the two NATO members still seeking to maintain more cordial ties with Moscow since Russia invaded Ukraine, have not done so. Hungary has parliamentary votes on the matter scheduled for March.

Turkey resisted Finland and Sweden's bids from the outset, accusing both countries of harboring people it considers terrorists, usually either Kurds or supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric and former ally living in the US whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now blames for orchestrating a 2016 failed coup attempt.

But Turkey's objection to Sweden's bid, in particular, has become more strident in recent weeks. This follows a pair of public protests in Sweden — the first by Kurdish activists and the second by far-right activists — involving the burning of an effigy of Erdogan and then of copies of the Quran. 

NATO countries have been lobbying Ankara to reconsider its position. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, for instance, made similar appeals this week on a visit to Finland and then Sweden. 

Turkey again suggests it may approve Finland first

Since finding renewed reason to oppose Sweden's bid, Turkey has suggested it might be more willing to approve Finland's accession separately first, and its foreign minister repeated this idea on Thursday. 

"We could evaluate Finland's NATO membership process separately from Sweden," Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a joint press conference with Stoltenberg. "Turkey's position on the two countries has been clear and unambiguous from the beginning." 

Stoltenberg sought both to stress that in his opinion both bids were ripe for approval, and to hint that handling the two countries separately could prove an option. 

"Both can be ratified now," Stoltenberg said. "But the main issue is not that they are ratified together. The main issue is that they are ratified as soon as possible." 

Stoltenberg will hold talks with President Erdogan later on Thursday in Ankara.

msh/fb (AFP, dpa, Reuters)