Brussels.- Envoys from Finland and Sweden met with Turkish officials on Monday to discuss Ankara’s continued objections to their offers to join NATO, in what could be one of the military alliance’s biggest expansions in decades.
Sweden and Finland announced last month that the Nordic nations would submit joint applications to join NATO, abandoning the neutrality they had adhered to for decades during the Cold War and underscoring how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has radically altered the calculus of security of Europe.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has threatened to block the two nations from joining the alliance, saying Sweden and Finland sympathize with Kurdish militants whom he regards as terrorists. His stance has complicated prospects for applicants because an application to join NATO must be approved unanimously by its 30 members.
Turkish resistance to countries joining the alliance has slowed a process that other alliance members have wanted to speed up as the West seeks to demonstrate unity in the face of President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Officials in Finland and Sweden have spoken with Turkish officials in an attempt to address the government’s concerns. NATO defense ministers have also been discussing how to satisfy Turkey. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Swedish media in Brussels the talks were important but he did not expect an immediate breakthrough.
A NATO official confirmed that Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had invited senior representatives from the three countries to meet to try to address concerns raised by Turkey. Stoltenberg said over the weekend that the alliance took the Turkish government’s concerns seriously, but offered no details on a possible resolution.
Today’s discussions come as Russia continues to pummel eastern Ukraine with attacks, resulting in mounting loss of life on both sides in a war that Western leaders have warned could last for years.
Turkey’s public broadcaster, TRT, confirmed that a delegation from Ankara had arrived in Brussels yesterday for the talks. Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Erdogan, told reporters that the negotiations could not continue unless concrete steps are taken.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde also urged patience, telling the Swedish news agency TT: “I hope the negotiations go well, but we are also prepared because this is a process that can take a long time. .”
In May, President Biden met with President Sauli Niinisto of Finland and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden at the White House, promising to accelerate their membership. He called their inclusion in the alliance almost a formality, noting that both countries had contributed forces to the conflicts in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.