US ‘confident’ NATO expansion issues will be resolved

Turkey has opposed NATO membership bids by Sweden and Finland, but US says concerns can be addressed.

Mevlut Cavusoglu and Antony Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at UN headquarters in New York, May 18, 2022 [Eduardo Munoz/Pool via Reuters]

US President Joe Biden has said the bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO would be successful, despite objections raised by Turkey to their applications.

“I think we’re going to be OK,” Biden said on Wednesday in response to a reporter’s question on how he would convince Ankara to drop its opposition.

Turkey has accused Sweden and Finland of harbouring “terrorists”, while also criticising Stockholm for suspending weapons sales to Ankara in 2019 over its involvement in the war in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan earlier urged the country’s NATO allies to “respect” its concerns about the European nations’ effort to join the US-led military alliance, which was prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Our only expectation from NATO allies is … to first understand our sensitivity, respect and finally support it,” Erdogan told his AK party’s legislators in parliament.

Finland and Sweden formally submitted their applications for NATO membership on Wednesday, said Jens Stoltenberg, who heads the alliance. “This is a good day at a critical time for our security,” he wrote on Twitter.

But NATO envoys meeting in Brussels failed to reach a consensus on whether to start membership talks, diplomats said, amid Turkey’s objections. The applications must be weighed by NATO’s 30 member countries in a process that is expected to take about two weeks.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was meeting his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at United Nations headquarters in New York on Wednesday afternoon.

Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey, reporting from the UN, said “the NATO membership expansion is at the top of the agenda.”

Saloomey said Cavusoglu told reporters ahead of the meeting that “Turkey understands that Sweden and Finland have security concerns as a result of Russia’s position in Ukraine, but Turkey also has security concerns that need to be addressed.”

For his part, Blinken said he was confident that the two countries could work through their differences, she added.

“The indication from sources here is that Turkey is not opposed to NATO expansion per se, if these security concerns are in fact addressed,” Saloomey said.

After the meeting, the Turkish foreign minister told reporters that Blinken said during their talks that necessary messages will be given regarding Turkey’s security concerns.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day in Washington, DC, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration remains “confident” that the issues can be resolved.

“We’re confident that at the end of the day Finland and Sweden” will enter NATO and “that Turkey’s concerns can be addressed”, Sullivan said from the White House. “We feel very good about where this will track to,” he said.

“I expect that NATO will speak with one voice in support of Finland and Sweden at the end of the day.”

If the objections are overcome, and accession talks go as well as expected, Sweden and Finland could become members within a few months. The process usually takes eight to 12 months, but NATO wants to move quickly.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies