Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday lifted its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO following close talks with the leaders of the two Nordic countries in Madrid.
Erdogan had stubbornly refused to greenlight the Nordic couple’s candidacies filed in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine despite pleas from his NATO allies to pave the way for their entry.
Turkey could essentially veto Finland and Sweden joining NATO since all members must agree to accept new members.
But late on Tuesday, Erdogan’s office said he had agreed to support their efforts to join, saying Ankara had “got what it wanted”.
“Turkey has made significant progress in the fight against terrorist organizations,” the office said ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid.
We traveled to Madrid to attend the Ministerial Summit of NATO States and Governments which begins tomorrow.
-Recep Tayyip Erdooanan (@RTErdogan) June 28, 2022
Ankara had accused Finland and especially Sweden of offering a safe haven to Kurdish militants who have been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades.
The two Nordic countries also agreed to lift their arms embargoes on Turkey, which were imposed in response to Ankara’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.
Turkey on Tuesday signed a memorandum with Finland and Sweden supporting the Nordic countries’ invitation to join NATO, the Finnish presidency said.
NATO allies, including Britain, welcomed the deal.
‘Responds to Turkey’s concerns
This decision comes after the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg mediated talks in Madrid between Erdogan and the leaders of Sweden and Finland.
“I am happy to announce that we now have an agreement which paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO,” he said.
The agreement “responds to Turkey’s concerns, particularly regarding arms exports and the fight against terrorism”, he added.
Swedish prime minister Madeleine Anderson on Tuesday hailed a “very good agreement” with Turkey but insisted that Sweden had not made too many concessions to Erdogan.
“Taking the next step towards full NATO membership is of course important for Sweden and Finland. But it is also a very important step for NATO, because our countries will be security providers within NATO,” Andersson said. AFP in an interview.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also welcomed the agreement.
“Sweden and Finland joining will make our brilliant alliance stronger and more secure,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.
Sweden and Finland traveled to the NATO meeting open to the possibility that Turkey would lift its objections only after the summit concludes on Thursday.
US welcomes Turkey’s decision
A US official insisted on Tuesday that no concessions had been made to Turkey to get its green light.
“There was no request from the Turks for the Americans to make any particular concession,” a senior administration official told reporters.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official called Turkey’s move a “powerful punch in the arm” for NATO unity.
Erdogan is expected to meet the US President Joe Biden Wednesday on the sidelines of the rally focused on the response to the Kremlin’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbor.
Erdogan and Biden have had a cold relationship since Biden’s election due to US human rights concerns under Erdogan.
Biden and Erdogan last met briefly in October on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Rome.
Fighter Jet Interviews
Erdogan’s ability to maintain a close working relationship with the Russian president Vladimir Poutine while supporting Ukraine’s war effort made him an important player in the conflict.
But those ties have also complicated his relationship with Biden and NATO.
Washington sanctioned Ankara for taking delivery of an advanced Russian missile defense system in 2019.
The purchase saw the United States withdraw Turkey from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and impose trade restrictions on its military procurement agency.
But Washington has signaled it may be willing to move past the dispute.
The Biden administration has suspended the possibility of supplying Ankara with older-generation F-16 jets that could replenish the Turkish Air Force’s aging fleet.
“The biggest problem is the F-16. It’s still on the table,” Erdogan said of his upcoming talks with Biden.
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