Finland and Sweden did not convince Turkey about NATO

Turkey showed no signs of lifting its blockade of Finland and Sweden joining NATO at a meeting on Thursday, writes the European edition of the American newspaper "Politico".

Representatives of the three countries met for the first time since November, after NATO said they expected a change in Turkey’s position.

Sweden defined the meeting as a step forward – regardless of the lack of concrete results.

“The most important thing today is that we came together,” Sweden’s negotiator Oskar Stenström told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels after the talks. The parties, he said, “agreed on further meetings”.

While 28 of NATO’s 30 allies quickly approved Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, the parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify their membership applications.

Ankara, Stockholm and Helsinki signed a memorandum outlining steps the countries will take to address Turkey’s concerns about arms exports and terrorism at the alliance’s summit in Madrid last summer, when NATO leaders decided to invite Sweden and Finland to join.

But despite policy changes in Finland and Sweden, such as bills designed to prevent participation in terrorist organizations, Ankara has continued to block membership and raise objections – particularly against Sweden.

Tensions have been particularly high since a far-right Danish politician burned a copy of the Koran in Stockholm outside the Turkish embassy in January.

And while it is unclear exactly what Turkey is up to with its continued blockade, there is speculation within the alliance that the protracted process is due in part to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s domestic political considerations, as well as an attempt to gain leverage in Ankara’s relationship with Washington .

Stenström said Turkey recognized that Sweden and Finland had “taken concrete steps”, characterizing this as a “good sign”.

The delayed approval is fueling frustration across the Alliance. Speculation is now growing whether Finland could join NATO before Sweden.

For the NATO allies, a key goal is to get Turkey and Hungary’s approval for both countries ahead of the alliance’s next summit, scheduled for July in Vilnius. A delay after that could prove inconvenient for the military alliance.

Asked if it was realistic for Sweden to join NATO before the summit, Stenström declined to commit to a timeline.

“My goal as chief negotiator is as soon as possible, of course; but I cannot promise a date,” he said, adding: “We are focused on concrete steps to implement the memorandum.”

Helsinki and Stockholm have already received security guarantees from numerous NATO allies, minimizing the risks to their security. But a delay would still complicate the Alliance’s planning processes and could affect political trust.

However, there is hope within the alliance that Ankara may back down after Turkey’s parliamentary and presidential elections in May, but still before the meeting in Vilnius.

“It is time for all Allies to complete the ratification process and welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of the Alliance ahead of the upcoming NATO Summit in Vilnius,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

In a statement after the session, the NATO chief said the countries “agreed that rapid ratifications for both Finland and Sweden would be in everyone’s interest” and “agreed to continue cooperation in this format and to meet again before the meeting in Vilnius”.

Sweden’s leadership, meanwhile, took an upbeat tone about its membership prospects.

“We have done everything we said we would do,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told Politico on Thursday, pointing to a new anti-terrorism bill.

Turkey has provided a list of wanted persons to Sweden and expects the Scandinavian country to take swift action to show that Ankara’s demands are indeed being met. However, none of the convicts has yet been handed over to Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu recently acknowledged that Sweden had made changes to its terrorism laws and promised to pass a new bill, but what Turkey wants is concrete action.

“It is not possible to say yes to Sweden’s membership in NATO without seeing these steps. Sweden is not fulfilling its obligations. This is the reason why we said yes to the meeting in Brussels,” he explained.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after Russia invaded Ukraine, and now need the support of all current NATO nations to move their bid forward. However, they have faced opposition from Turkey, which accuses them of supporting and harboring Kurdish fighters and other groups that Ankara considers terrorists. Ankara subsequently withdrew its objection on the condition that the two Scandinavian countries comply with its demands.

Finland has previously hinted it may split its bid from Sweden after the breakdown in relations between Ankara and Stockholm. However, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto later retracted this statement and instead stated that the position of a joint bid with Sweden would be maintained, yet specified that a split was possible if Sweden received a permanent refusal from Turkey to enter the bloc.

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