(Bloomberg) — Finnish and Swedish leaders are due to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday in a bid to convince him to drop objections to their NATO membership.
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Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson are due to meet Erdogan in Madrid, alongside Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Niinisto’s office announced on Twitter on Monday. Their meeting is preceded by a series of talks organized by NATO in Brussels, including a bilateral meeting between Stoltenberg and Andersson.
Tomorrow’s talks will take place as NATO begins a summit in Madrid, at which Finland and Sweden will also be present as alliance partners. The summit provides an “opportunity that we should seize” to advance membership applications, Stoltenberg told reporters on Monday.
Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO in May after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, but their membership was immediately blocked by Erdogan, who demands they do more to suppress Kurdish groups than they see as terrorists. Allowing arms sales is another key demand from Erdogan.
Turkey has the power to veto the membership of the two Nordic countries, as an approval is needed by the 30 member countries of the alliance. Ankara chose to prevent the two from even starting talks on the terms of their entry.
The Madrid summit will decide the strategic direction of the alliance. While all parties have insisted that the summit is not a deadline for resolving the conflict with Turkey, pressure is mounting to avoid a deadlock.
Stoltenberg declined to speculate on what would be achieved in future meetings, or to provide a specific timeline. “The only thing I can promise is that we are working as hard as possible and as intensely as possible to find a solution as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said.
“The longer the situation remains unresolved, the more the united front of the alliance begins to crumble,” Iro Sarkka, a NATO expert at the University of Helsinki, said in an interview. “The active role of NATO is necessary to resolve the situation, to bring the parties to the same table.”
“We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but it seems like a conscious choice to make it seem like these three countries are the ones negotiating and airing the role of the United States,” she said. . “But at the end of the day, that’s where the solution will probably come from – the United States is stepping in to make a deal with Turkey to solve the problem.”
Read more: Turkey says its stance on NATO won’t change at June summit
Turkey is a key member of NATO, with the bloc’s second largest army after the United States in terms of numbers and a strategic position between Europe and the Middle East. He wants the Nordic countries to commit in writing to suppress not only supporters of the Kurdish militant group PKK – already designated as a terrorist organization by the EU and the United States – but also its affiliates, such as the so-called YPG militia in Syria.
Backed by Western nations, the YPG played an important role in defeating the Islamic State jihadists in Syria. Turkey accuses the group of attacking its soldiers near the countries border.
In the meantime, having Finland and Sweden as members would be a victory for NATO, allowing it to effectively control the Baltic Sea and strengthening its ability to defend Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Both countries meet NATO entry requirements and would bring considerable firepower.
“NATO has long wanted to include Finland and Sweden as members because of their strategic location which helps defend the Baltic States and increase the overall security of the Baltic Sea, and because they are suppliers of security, not consumers,” said Minna Alander, research assistant at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
Finalizing their membership might be more urgent given Russia’s recent “very aggressive” rhetoric on the Baltic states and incursions into Estonian airspace, she said. “This is a problem for NATO, where the Turkish opposition may actually contribute to creating a threat to the security of the Baltic countries, which are already members of NATO.”
(Updates with Stoltenberg’s remarks in third and seventh paragraphs)
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