Finland, Sweden sending teams to Turkey to discuss NATO bids

Finland and Sweden are set to send delegations to Ankara on Wednesday in a bid to resolve Ankara’s opposition to their  NATO membership applications, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday.

NATO member Turkey, in a move that surprised many alliance members, last week said that it would not support membership for Sweden and Finland after the Nordic countries took the widely anticipated step of agreeing to apply to join the U.S.-led alliance amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The enlargement of NATO must be approved by all 30 members.

“We are sending our delegations to visit Ankara, actually both Sweden and Finland. This will happen tomorrow, so the dialog is continuing,” Reuters cited Haavisto as saying during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

In rejecting the membership bids of the countries, Ankara cites Sweden and Finland’s alleged failure to combat terrorism, saying the two countries provide shelter to members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for Kurdish autonomy on Turkish soil, and the religious Gülen Movement, which Turkey blames for a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Ankara accuses the countries of failing to agree to extradite dozens of the so-called terrorists.

Erdoğan over the weekend held phone calls with the leaders of the two countries to discuss his concerns.

“We understand that Turkey has some of their own security concerns vis a vis terrorism … We think that these issues can be settled. There might be also some issues that are not linked directly to Finland and Sweden but more to other NATO members,” Reuters cited Haavisto as saying.

Meanwhile, Sweden on Tuesday denied that it was providing any “financial assistance or military support” to Kurdish groups or entities in Syria, refuting claims that Ankara has been making as part of opposition to the country and Finland's bids to join NATO, the Associated Press reported.

“Sweden is a major humanitarian donor to the Syria crisis through global allocations to humanitarian actors," AP cited Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

Cooperation in northeastern Syria is carried out primarily through the United Nations and international organizations," she said. "Sweden does not provide targeted support to Syrian Kurds or to the political or military structures in northeastern Syria, but the population in these areas is, of course, taking part in these aid projects.”

Ankara is demanding five “concrete assurances” from Sweden, including what it said was “termination of political support for terrorism,” an “elimination of the source of terrorism financing,” and the “cessation of arms support” to the banned PKK and a Syrian Kurdish militia group affiliated with it, according to AP.

Turkey is also calling for the lifting of arms sanctions against Turkey. In 2019, both Sweden and Finland slapped an arms embargo on Ankara after its incursion into Syria targeting Kurdish rebels it sees an existential threat to Turkey.

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