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NATO chief urges Turkey to approve Finnish and Swedish membership

ISTANBUL (AP) — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday urged Turkey to lift its reservations about efforts by Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance, insisting that the Nordic neighbors have done enough to satisfy Ankara’s membership concerns.

Finland and Sweden applied to join the world’s largest security alliance in the months after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February. In doing so, they abandoned longstanding policies of military non-alignment for fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin would target them next.

But Turkey, which joined NATO in 1952, is still not ready to endorse them after months of trilateral talks. The Turkish government wants them to crack down on individuals they consider terrorists, such as supporters of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party and those suspected of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup in Turkey.

“Finland and Sweden have kept their commitment to Turkey. They have become strong partners in our common fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Istanbul after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

“It is time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO. Joining them will make our alliance stronger and our people more secure,” Stoltenberg said. “In these dangerous times, it is even more important to finalize their membership, to avoid any misunderstandings or miscalculations in Moscow.”

However, Cavusoglu said the timeline for accepting them as new members would depend on when Turkey’s demands, agreed in a joint memorandum, are met. The 10-article memorandum was unveiled ahead of a NATO summit in June after Turkey threatened for weeks to veto the candidacies of Sweden and Finland.

“These two countries must take important steps to fight terrorism because one of the biggest threats facing NATO today is terrorism,” the Turkish minister said.

“It is not possible to say at present that the two countries have fully implemented all aspects of the memorandum,” he added, while emphasizing that Turkey supports the enlargement of the NATO.

Cavusoglu said Turkey sees the new Swedish government as “more determined” to respect the memorandum signed in Madrid. Sweden’s new Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson is due to visit Ankara on November 8, he said.

Turkey has also called for the arms embargo imposed following its 2019 foray into northern Syria to fight Kurdish militants to be lifted. Sweden announced last month that it would lift the embargo, a move seen as aimed at gaining Ankara’s approval.

Cavusoglu acknowledged that Sweden had changed its laws and hailed the lifting of the arms embargo as “an important step”. But he warned that the changes must be permanent and that Sweden must not go back once it has secured NATO membership.

But Stoltenberg, in his strongest public statement of support for the candidates on Turkish soil, said emphatically that they had done enough.

“I recognize your concerns. At the same time, it is clear that Finland and Sweden have complied with the memorandum and are committed to a long-term partnership with Turkey,” the former Norwegian prime minister told Cavusoglu.

Cavusoglu also pointed out that Turkey had no major problems with Finland but because the Nordic countries want their accession process to take place in tandem, the two received the “equal treatment” from Ankara.

All 30 NATO member countries must officially ratify the accession protocol for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance. Only the Turkish and Hungarian parliaments have not yet done so.

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Cook reported from Brussels.

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