Blinken urges Nordics’ accession to NATO in Turkey visit

The US secretary of state says Finland and Sweden have already taken ‘concrete steps’ to meet Ankara’s requests.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu are meeting in Ankara [Cagla Gurdogan/Reuters]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has stressed Washington’s strong support for Sweden and Finland’s quick NATO accession, even as his Turkish counterpart stressed the need for more concrete action on the part of the Nordic countries.

Speaking at a joint press conference after meeting Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, Blinken stated that the Nordic countries have acted upon the conditions set by Turkey in June last year when it agreed to lift its veto for Sweden and Finland on joining the US-led military alliance.

The US’s top diplomat, who is on his first trip to Turkey since his appointment two years ago, said NATO’s Nordic expansion issue was not a bilateral one with Ankara and that Washington supported their accession into the alliance “as quickly as possible”.

“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.

Washington also reaffirmed its commitment to delivering F-16 jets to Turkey, despite Turkish insistence that their approval should not depend on the lifting of objections to Sweden joining NATO.

Turkey wants modernised versions of F-16 fighter jets for its ageing air force, but the US Congress must approve any sale.

Blinken added he could not provide a “formal timeline” for approval and delivery.

With his visit coming in the wake of devastating earthquakes that have now killed more than 46,000 people in Turkey and Syria, Blinken also announced $100m in aid to help affected populations.

He also praised the support provided by US companies and people, saying: “We have nearly $80m in donations from the private sector in the United States, [from] individuals. When I visited the Turkish embassy in Washington, I almost couldn’t get in the front door because boxes were piled high throughout the driveway to the embassy.

“Turkey faces a long road ahead to support those rendered homeless and to rebuild and we’re committed to providing support.”

On Sunday, Blinken and Cavusoglu took a helicopter tour of Hatay, one of the worst-hit provinces.

Blinken also held a closed-door meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara after the news conference.

Stalled bids

The two NATO bids have been stalled because Turkey has refused to ratify them. For any new member to join the alliance, all of its members must agree unanimously.

Ankara recently indicated it would approve only Finland for accession to NATO, saying Sweden in particular harboured what it calls terrorist groups.

Ankara wants Helsinki and Stockholm to take a tougher line against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and another group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

It was also angered last month by Sweden’s decision to allow a protest by a far-right political party to go ahead. Erdogan warned Stockholm that it should not expect his backing to join NATO following the burning of the Quran outside Ankara’s embassy.

Swedish leaders roundly condemned the blasphemous act but defended their country’s broad definition of free speech.

Cavusoglu, alongside Blinken, called on all parties in the alliance to convince Stockholm to take more action to address Ankara’s concerns and win its support for the bid.

“Sweden made a law change, but we see that every kind of activity, including terrorism financing, recruitment and propaganda, is 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.

Finland and Sweden dropped decades of military non-alignment and applied to join the alliance last year in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies