U.S. confident about Sweden, Finland’s NATO bids ahead of Turkey talks

The United States said it expected strong backing within NATO for the membership applications of Finland and Sweden ahead of top-level talks with Turkey, which has objected to them joining.

Turkey, which joined NATO along with Greece in 1952, last week raised objections to the two countries becoming members. It cited their support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Kurdish militants who have fought a war of autonomy against Turkey's military at the cost of 40,000 lives.

“We are confident that we will be able to preserve the consensus within the alliance of strong support for a potential application of Finland and Sweden,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

Price spoke ahead of a meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu in New York on Wednesday. President Joe Biden is set to host the prime minister of Sweden and the president of Finland at the White House on Thursday.

Asked by a reporter whether Turkey was seeking to leverage an historical moment in NATO to get something that it wants from the alliance, Price said Turkey “has not made any specific asks or requests”. Sweden and Finland strongly deny that they support the PKK.

“It is not for me to speak for the Turkish government or to characterise their position,” Price said.

“What we can do is characterise what we heard inside the NATO ministerial, what we have heard in bilateral and multilateral -- including in conversations as an alliance -- with our fellow NATO allies. There is strong consensus, there has been strong consensus for admitting Finland and Sweden if they so choose to join.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday restated opposition voiced last week to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, just hours after they formally announced they would seek membership. The countries need to halt support for Kurdish “terrorists” on their territory and lift weapons embargoes on Turkey, he said.

Analysts say Erdoğan may seek to leverage his objections to ensure that Turkey's application to purchase F-16 fighter jets and upgrade kits for its airforce is approved by the U.S. government and Congress. Turkey is also seeking non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council and more money from the European Union for its hosting of Syrian refugees.

Sweden hosted a “PKK terrorist-linked meeting” on Saturday in the capital Stockholm, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported this week. The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) organised the event, it said. The Swedish Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Turkey says Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which are the main fighting force of the SDF, are indistinguishable from the PKK. The YPG became a key ally of the United States and other Western countries in battling Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.

The PKK is recognised as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union. It rejects the label saying it is fighting a legitimate war of self-determination for more than 10 million Kurds residing in Turkey.

(This story was updated with details in the ninth paragraph.)

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