NATO ministers ‘confident’ Turkey will not stop Sweden and Finland joining

Foreign ministers from several NATO countries expressed optimism that Turkey would change its mind over opposing Sweden and Finland’s accession to the western defense alliance and that the two countries can swiftly join.

“We hope this situation will be resolved through direct dialogue between the three countries,” Romanian foreign minister Bogdan Aurescu said on Sunday ahead of consultations with NATO counterparts in Berlin.

He said there had been “contacts” between Turkey, Sweden and Finland over the weekend “discussing the possibilities for moving forward”. “I fully understand the concerns of Turkey. . .[but]we should not lose momentum. . . especially in the current context, ”he added.

Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, said he was “confident” that Turkey would relent. “But of course Turkey is sometimes difficult, and we, too, are sometimes difficult,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday came out against Sweden and Finland joining NATO, saying he could not take a “positive view” of the two nations’ potential bids for membership.

Finland’s government and president kick off a momentous few days for the region later on Sunday when they formally announce the country’s Nato application.

That will be followed by the decision of Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats on whether to jettison 200 years of military non-alignment and also submit an application. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö will make a state visit to Sweden early next week during which the two countries could jointly send their NATO applications.

Public opinion has swung massively in favor of NATO membership in both Finland and Sweden since Russia began its full-scale war against Ukraine in February, forcing politicians in both countries to ditch decades if not centuries of security thinking.

Swedish and Finnish membership of Nato would transform the security situation in northern Europe and make the alliance’s defense of the Baltic countries easier. It would also more than double NATO’s border with Russia, which has threatened “serious military and political consequences” should either country join the alliance.

NATO foreign ministers will spend Sunday discussing the war in Ukraine and how they can step up aid to the authorities in Kyiv. They will also discuss NATO’s new strategic concept ahead of a summit of the alliance in Madrid in June. This will define the security challenges facing NATO and outline the political and military tasks it will carry out to address them.

Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, said there should be no delay in bringing Sweden and Finland into NATO. “There should be no. . . gray zone, ”she said before the informal meeting, adding that it was her hope that the two countries can“ join very quickly ”.

Erdoğan, as the rationale for his objection, cited Sweden and Finland’s support for the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) which has waged a decades-long armed insurgency against the Turkish state. It is classified as a terrorist organization by Ankara, the US and the EU. Erdoğan said Scandinavian countries were “like some kind of guest house for terrorist organizations”.

But Turkey appears to be alone in taking this stance, with most NATO member states expressing strong support for Finland and Sweden’s accession.

The Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers joined their Nato colleagues at a dinner in Berlin on Saturday night to discuss their membership bid.

“If they will decide to seek membership I am confident that allies will look constructively and positively at their membership of this alliance,” said Mircea Geoană, NATO’s deputy secretary-general.

He described the two countries as “vibrant democracies” with “impeccable” records on the rule of law and “strong militaries” that were “very interoperable with the rest of NATO”.

Baerbock said that many countries had never wanted to join the defense pact “but now they’re being pushed into NATO” by Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.

The German government would ensure “swift ratification” of Swedish and Finnish membership of NATO, she added. “This can not be a long drawn-out process,” she said, insisting that the two countries’ accession would “make us even stronger”.

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