Hopes fade for deal on Finland, Sweden’s NATO accession by key summit

Turkey said a summit of NATO’s leaders in Madrid, Spain next week did not constitute a deadline for talks on the membership applications of Sweden and Finland, who both sought to play down the chances of a deal.

Hopes are fading for an agreement by the summit due to slow progress in talks between officials of the three countries. NATO members, led by the United States, have been pressing for an agreement on the accession of Finland and Sweden by the June 29-30 meeting to demonstrate strength and unity in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Any progress on the membership bids “now depends on the direction and speed at which these countries will take steps” to combat threats to Turkey’s security, Ibrahim Kalın, spokesperson for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, told reporters in Brussels, Belgium. He spoke after a latest round of talks with Swedish and Finnish officials at NATO’s headquarters.

“The NATO summit is not an endpoint for us, so those negotiations will continue. That's what we told our interlocutors from Finland and Sweden," Kalın said, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkey was expecting Sweden in particular to take immediate measures to combat the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on its territory, said Kalın, who is also Erdoğan’s chief foreign policy adviser. Ankara says the two countries cannot join NATO unless they stop harbouring and supporting the PKK, which has fought a four-decade war for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey, and an affiliate in Syria.

Kalin said the governments in Stockholm and Helsinki should prevent the PKK from collecting funds, recruiting new members and ensuring that its activities and propaganda against Turkey end.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde and her Finnish counterpart Pekka Haavisto also sought to play down the chances of a swift agreement after talks at a European Union meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. “Both I and my Finnish colleague are fully aware that this can take time,” Linde said, according to Norwegian newspaper Vårt Land.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin has expressed concern that “there is a risk that the situation will freeze” unless differences with Turkey are resolved by the Madrid meetings.

Turkey joined NATO in 1952 and runs the alliance’s second-largest standing army. Under Erdoğan, it has sought to develop a foreign policy free of Western tutelage. But it has also developed close relations with Russia in the past five years and has remained neutral in the Ukraine war. Erdoğan’s government welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Ankara two weeks ago for talks on bilateral and regional issues.

Sweden has voiced support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a United States-backed Kurdish group in Syria, and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkey says the YPG is an extension of the PKK, which is labelled as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.

Turkey is also demanding that Sweden and Finland lift arms embargoes imposed on the country for its military incursions into Syria to battle Kurdish fighters.

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