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Turkish leader opposes Finland and Sweden joining NATO

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HELSINKI — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that his country was “not in favor” of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, indicating that Turkey could use its membership in the military alliance West to veto the two countries’ admission measures.

“We are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we are not of a favorable view,” Erdogan told reporters.

The Turkish leader explained his opposition by citing the alleged support of Sweden and other Scandinavian countries for Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers terrorists.

He said he also did not want to repeat Turkey’s past “mistake” when it agreed to readmit Greece back into NATO’s military wing in 1980. He claimed that this action allowed Greece “to adopt an attitude against Turkey” with the support of NATO.

Erdogan did not say categorically that he would block any attempt by the two Nordic nations to join. However, NATO makes all its decisions by consensus, which means that each of the 30 member countries has a potential veto over who can join.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has prompted Finland and Sweden to reconsider their traditions of military non-alignment. Public opinion in both countries quickly began to favor NATO membership after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

If the two countries continue on this path, it would represent a blow for Russia since President Vladimir Putin has cited NATO expansion near Russian territory as one of his justifications for invading Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden spoke with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö on Friday.

The White House said in a statement that Biden “underlined his support for NATO’s open door policy and the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements”.

Niinistö’s office said the three leaders “share deep concern about Russia’s war against Ukraine.”

“President Niinistö outlined Finland’s next steps towards NATO membership. President Niinistö said (to Biden) that Finland deeply appreciates all necessary support from the United States,” the office said in a brief statement.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Washington was “working to clarify Turkey’s position” and believes there is “broad support” among NATO members for Finland and Sweden join the alliance.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish foreign minister, this weekend in Germany.

America’s top diplomat for Europe, Karen Donfried, told reporters ahead of Blinken’s trip that the United States continued to support Finland’s and Sweden’s potential bids for NATO membership. She said the United States remains convinced that the alliance is more united than ever due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Finland’s president and prime minister said on Thursday they favored a swift application for NATO membership, paving the way for the country to announce a decision in the coming days. Sweden’s ruling Social Democratic Party, led by Andersson, is expected to reveal its decision on Sunday.

Asked about Erdogan’s comments at a press conference in Helsinki, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said: “We need patience in this kind of process. It doesn’t happen in a day. That’s all I can say for now. Let’s take the problems step by step.

The Finnish minister said he was likely to have talks with his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, at the NATO meeting in Berlin this weekend. Cavusoglu spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday, but the Turkish Foreign Ministry did not provide details.

Stoltenberg said Finland and Sweden, if they formally applied to join the world’s largest security organization, would be welcomed with open arms.

The accession procedure could take place in “a few weeks”, several NATO officials have said, although ratification of the accession protocol by member countries could take around six months.

Meanwhile, a report by the Swedish government on the altered security environment facing the Nordic country following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine indicates that Moscow would react negatively to Sweden joining NATO and would initiate several countermeasures.

The analysis of the Swedish government’s security policy, which will serve as the basis for Andersson’s cabinet in deciding whether or not to seek membership in the Western military alliance, was presented to Swedish lawmakers on Friday.

The report did not include a recommendation on whether or not Sweden should try to join NATO. But he stressed that NATO membership has a number of benefits for Sweden – above all the collective security provided by the 30-member military alliance.

At the same time, he lists numerous tactics that Russia is likely to use in retaliation, including cyberattacks, violations of Swedish airspace and threats to use nuclear weapons.

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Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Matt Lee and Chris Megerian in Washington contributed.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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