US presses on Turkey as Finland and Sweden hope for NATO breakthrough

HELSINKI: NATO hopes Finland and Sweden expressed optimism on Tuesday (June 28) that Turkey could veto their stalled bid to join the military alliance at a summit in Madrid where US President Joe Biden will meet his Turkish counterpart will meet.

The White House confirmed that Biden will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the summit, which begins later Tuesday and lasts until Thursday, and two NATO diplomats said they expected Washington to try to break the deadlock.

Turkey’s unexpected objections to the membership of the two Scandinavian countries, which if successful, would be the biggest shift in European security in decades, threatens to overshadow a summit striving for unity as Russia wages war in Ukraine.

“The general view is that the discussions have progressed a little better, which should mean that understanding has increased somewhat on both sides,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told reporters in Helsinki, citing talks between diplomats.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde continued, telling the daily Svenska Dagbladet (SvD): “We are prepared for the possibility that something positive could happen today, but it could also take longer.”

Erdogan will meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto at around 2pm GMT (10pm Singapore time) in Madrid.

“We hope to make progress,” Stoltenberg said.

Ankara’s main demands are that the Scandinavian countries stop supporting Kurdish militant groups present on their territory, and lift their ban on some arms sales to Turkey.

Those terms are now the subject of intense diplomacy as NATO allies attempt to seal accession in record time as a way to bolster their response to Russia, particularly in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give the alliance military superiority.

In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already NATO members. Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow says is a “special operation,” helped overturn decades of opposition to Sweden’s NATO membership.