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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday doubled down on his objections to any quick NATO memberships for Finland and Sweden, as diplomats race to find a compromise with Ankara.
“Today we are indeed one of the countries that most support the activities of the alliance,” Erdoğan said, adding: “But that also does not mean that we will say categorically ‘yes’ to every proposal that is subject to us.”
On Wednesday morning, the ambassadors of Finland and Sweden officially submitted their membership application to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. This was followed by a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s governing political body, where Turkey’s reservations meant the allies failed to reach the unanimity required to begin the process immediately. of membership.
Turkish leaders have argued in recent days that Finland and Sweden support Kurdish groups, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant organization that Ankara and others have called a terrorist organization, and the predominantly Kurdish YPG militia in Syria.
In a speech to the parliamentary group of his Justice and Development Party on Wednesday, the Turkish president said that “to give all kinds of support to the PKK/YPG terrorist organization and also ask us to support joining NATO is incoherent to say the least”. according to a transcript of his speech published by Anadolu News Agency.
Speaking about the alleged activities of Kurdish groups in several European countries, the Turkish leader said that Ankara had requested – in vain – 30 “terrorists” from Sweden.
“You will not give us terrorists, but you will rise up and ask us to join NATO. NATO is a security formation, a security organization, so we cannot say ‘yes’ to depriving this security organization of security,” he said.
Finnish and Swedish officials have said they are open to dialogue with Turkey, with Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde noting that her country views the PKK as a terrorist organization.
Speaking on Wednesday after a meeting with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin in Washington, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said that “we want to have contact with Turkey and our ambition is for that to be resolved as soon as possible,” adding, “We are interested. in as quick a process as possible.
Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, meanwhile, said the issue would be raised in a meeting later this week with US President Joe Biden.
“Turkey has always said that it sees no obstacle to the expansion of NATO,” said the Finnish leader.
Alliance officials insist that a compromise can be found with Ankara. In his speech, however, the Turkish leader raised broader grievances over what he described as a lack of sufficient allied support for Turkish security.
“I call on the countries that have both influence and power in the region and our NATO allies: come, support these legitimate, just, humanitarian and moral operations of Turkey. At least, don’t don’t try to trip us up, he said.
Membership in NATO requires the support of all 30 members of the alliance, which gives Erdoğan a powerful bargaining chip. It’s still unclear what Turkey’s endgame will be in the process, but many officials and diplomats have said they expect the Biden administration to play a key role in overcoming objections. Ankara. They said they were confident that the two countries would eventually join NATO.
“We take it day by day and hope for the best,” a NATO diplomat said.
A European official, meanwhile, noted that discussions are now expected at different levels and that “all of this must be resolved through diplomacy”.
Many allies are now pushing for a quick consensus.
A NATO official, speaking after the initial North Atlantic Council discussion, noted that Stoltenberg had previously said that Sweden and Finland were the “closest partners” in the alliance and that ” their membership in NATO would strengthen Euro-Atlantic security”.
“The security interests of all Allies must be taken into account,” the official said. “We are determined to resolve all issues and reach a speedy conclusion.”
Leyla Aksu and Charlie Duxbury contributed reporting.