© Reuters. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu arrive at a meeting in Ankara, Turkey February 20, 2023. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan
By Humeyra Pamuk and Huseyin Hayatsever
ANKARA (Reuters) -Washington strongly supports Sweden and Finland’s quick NATO accession given steps they have already taken, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday, even as his Turkish counterpart stressed the need for more concrete action.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the trans-Atlantic defence pact after Russia invaded Ukraine, but faced unexpected objections from Turkey.
Ankara says Stockholm has harboured what Ankara calls members of terrorist groups. Turkey recently indicated it would approve only Finland for NATO membership.
“Finland and Sweden have already taken concrete steps to fulfil the commitments that they met under the trilateral memorandum of agreement that they signed,” Blinken said.
Reiterating that NATO’s Nordic expansion issue is not a bilateral one with Turkey, Blinken said the United States strongly supported Sweden and Finland’s accession into the alliance “as quickly as possible”.
But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, standing alongside Blinken, said all parties in the alliance must convince Sweden in particular to take more action to address Ankara’s concerns and win its support for the bid.
When asked if Ankara would approve their accession by a NATO summit set to take place in Lithuania in July, a gathering by which the Western countries are hoping the expansion can be completed, Cavusoglu said Stockholm needed to do more.
“Sweden made a law change, but we see that every kind of activities, including terrorism financing, recruitment and propaganda, are continuing in Sweden,” he said.
“If they take steps that convince our parliament and people, there could be a development in this direction,” he added.
NATO TALKS TO RESUME
But Cavusoglu also said suspended talks with Sweden and Finland on their NATO membership bid would resume “soon” in Brussels, in a clear signal of easing tensions between Stockholm and Ankara.
Turkey had cancelled indefinitely a trilateral mechanism with Sweden and Finland on their applications to join NATO after Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line, burned a copy of the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm in January.
“It is a welcome and good message from Turkey,” Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters in Brussels, Swedish public broadcaster SVT reports.
Ankara wants Helsinki and Stockholm in particular to take a tougher line against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by Turkey and its Western allies, and another group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.
In January, Erdogan said he was open to ratifying only Helsinki’s application.
After the talks with Cavusoglu, Blinken had an hour-long meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara.