NATO chief says he had ‘no reason to believe’ Turkey would block Nordic membership

The NATO secretary general insisted he had ‘no reason to believe’ that Turkey would block Finland and Sweden’s attempts to join the military alliance when he promised the countries Nordic countries a fast accession process in April.

Jens Stoltenberg told the Financial Times that it was still possible to overcome Ankara’s “legitimate” concerns about terrorism and arms sales “within a reasonable timeframe”.

The former Norwegian prime minister added: “Earlier in the process, we had no reason to believe there would be any problems. Turkish concerns are not new. Turkey is an important ally, and when an ally raises security concerns, we must respond to them.

NATO officials have promised Finland and Sweden that the first stage of their NATO candidacy will only take a week or two, before Turkey raises objections over terrorism and support for Kurds, just as the two Nordic nations postulated last month after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. .

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly hit out at Sweden and Finland, calling them “guesthouses” for terrorists and demanding that their NATO candidacies be blocked.

Finnish and Swedish ministers have talked about toughening their anti-terrorism laws and potentially relaxing the criteria for Turkish arms sales once they become NATO members. But officials from both countries have also complained that it is difficult to pin down the Turks in terms of their real demands.

Asked if his own credibility was at stake after telling Finland and Sweden their ratification would be swift, Stoltenberg repeated that he had “no reason to believe at that time” that there would be problems.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö also said that in a conversation with Erdoğan in April, the Turkish President assured him that any NATO candidacy would be welcomed.

Stoltenberg said on Monday: “My goal is to have Finland and Sweden as members as soon as possible. It can still be quick compared to other accession processes.”

He said there was no deadline to resolve the matter by the NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June, which many had seen as a time for the defense alliance to officially welcome its new candidates.

Turkey’s concerns seem directed less towards Finland than towards Sweden, which has a large Kurdish population and whose government has only survived twice thanks to an agreement with a Swedish-Kurdish MP that includes support for a group whom Erdoğan calls a terrorist.

“Turkish concerns about terrorism are legitimate. Because no NATO ally has suffered as many terrorist attacks as Turkey. . . We will sit down with Türkiye and find a common way,” Stoltenberg said, using the name of Erdoğan’s preferred country.

He also praised Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, whom he will visit later on Monday, for “Swedish willingness to address Türkiye’s concerns” by changing anti-terrorism laws and suggesting that arms sales to Ankara could be facilitated. .

Niinistö appeared to indicate on Sunday that Finland would not abandon Sweden if its neighbor encountered difficulties with its NATO bid, stressing that “Sweden’s cause is ours”.

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