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NATO talks with Finland, Sweden falter but will continue

Published:Thursday | May 19, 2022 | 12:08 AM
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto gives a statements to media after Finnish parliament voted on NATO membership in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday, May 17.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto gives a statements to media after Finnish parliament voted on NATO membership in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday, May 17.

BRUSSELS (AP):

NATO envoys failed to reach a consensus Wednesday on whether to start membership talks with Finland and Sweden, diplomats said, as Turkey renewed its objections to the two Nordic countries joining.

The envoys met at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels after Finland and Sweden’s ambassadors submitted written applications to join the military organisation, in a move that marks one of the biggest geopolitical ramifications of Russia’s war on Ukraine – and which could rewrite Europe’s security map.

The diplomats, who did not want to be named because of the sensitive nature of the proceedings, declined to say who or what was holding up the procedure. They pointed to the messages from many of the 30 NATO allies welcoming Finland and Sweden’s request.

Lithuanian Ambassador Deividas Matulionis told Swedish and Finnish media that the envoys had exchanged views about their national security. “The discussion was about that, but it is up to Turkey to comment,” he said.

NATO officials also refused to provide details. They underlined remarks earlier Wednesday by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, that “we are determined to work through all issues and reach a rapid conclusion”. Meetings and diplomatic outreach aimed at resolving the problem will continue.

US President Joe Biden voiced optimism on the matter Wednesday.

“I think we’re going to be OK,” he said.

Turkey is the only ally to have clearly voiced its opposition – and while Croatia’s president on Wednesday suggested his country could do the same to secure a trade-off from Western powers, he’s unlikely to derail the Croatian government’s support for the Nordic pair’s NATO accession.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists Finland and Sweden must show more respect for Turkish sensitivities about terrorism. He is refusing to budge over what he says is their alleged support for Kurdish militants.

Erdogan accuses the two countries of turning a blind eye to activities of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, even though the group is on the European Union’s anti-terror blacklist.

“You will not hand over terrorists to us, but you will ask us to allow you to join NATO. NATO is a security entity ... Therefore, we cannot say ‘yes’ to depriving this security organisation of security,” he said Wednesday.

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said his Balkan country should follow suit. Milanovic is feuding with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on domestic issues.

“We should follow Turkey’s example,” Milanovic said. “Turkey will sell its NATO status at a high price.”

Before Croatia’s lawmakers ratify the Nordic pair’s NATO bid, Milanovic – a socialist – wants a change of neighbouring Bosnia’s electoral law in favour of Bosnian Croats. But Plenkovic’ conservative party enjoys a small majority over the socialists in parliament, and would likely carry the vote on Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids.

The day had started off on an upbeat note in Brussels. Stoltenberg had said the military alliance stands ready to seize a historic moment and move quickly on allowing Finland and Sweden to join its ranks, after the two countries submitted their membership requests.