Finland state

Swedish and Finnish delegations in Turkey for NATO talks

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Senior Swedish and Finnish officials met with their Turkish counterparts in Ankara on Wednesday in a bid to overcome Turkey’s strong objections to offers from the Nordic countries to join NATO.

Sweden and Finland submitted their written applications to join NATO last week. The move represents one of the biggest geopolitical ramifications of Russia’s war in Ukraine and could rewrite Europe’s security map.

Turkey has said it opposes countries joining the Western military alliance, citing grievances over Sweden’s – and to a lesser extent Finland’s – perceived support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and other entities that Turkey considers security threats.

The PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by several of Turkey’s allies, has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey, a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The Turkish government also accuses Finland and Sweden of imposing arms export restrictions on Turkey and refusing to extradite suspected “terrorists”.

Turkey’s objections dampened hopes in Stockholm and Helsinki to quickly join NATO amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and put the credibility of the transatlantic alliance at stake. The 30 members of NATO must agree on the admission of new members.

The Swedish and Finnish delegations met with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal. The Swedish delegation was led by Secretary of State Oscar Stenstrom, while Jukka Salovaara, the undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, led the Finnish delegation, Turkish officials said.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said after a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel in Stockholm that her country wanted to “clarify” the claims that circulated during talks with Turkey.

“We don’t send money or weapons to terrorist organizations,” Andersson said.

Michel, who is due to travel to Helsinki from Stockholm, said it was “a pivotal moment for Sweden” and “we fully support your choices”.

Turkey this week listed five “concrete assurances” it demanded from Sweden, including what it called an “end of political support for terrorism”, an “elimination of the source of funding for terrorism” and the “termination of arms support” banned the PKK and a Syrian Kurdish militia affiliated with it.

The demands also called for the lifting of arms sanctions against Turkey and for global cooperation against terrorism.

Turkey said it had sought the extradition of Kurdish activists and other suspects since 2017 but had not received a positive response from Stockholm. The Turkish government has claimed that Sweden has decided to provide $376 million to support Kurdish militants in 2023 and has provided them with military equipment, including anti-tank weapons and drones.

Sweden has denied providing “financial aid or military support” to Kurdish groups or entities in Syria.

“Sweden is a major humanitarian donor in the Syrian crisis through global allocations to humanitarian actors,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

“Cooperation in northeastern Syria is carried out mainly through the United Nations and international organizations,” she said. “Sweden does not provide targeted support to the Syrian Kurds or to the political or military structures in northeastern Syria, but the population of these regions is of course involved in these aid projects.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of the Council of Baltic Sea States on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Russia had left Sweden and Finland “no choice” but to join NATO.

She said Germany would support the two countries joining, calling it a “real gain” for the military alliance.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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