Matthew Lee and Susan Fraser
WASHINGTON (AP) – On Wednesday, the United States struggled to gain clarity from Turkey on the seriousness of its opposition to Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a tougher stance against their membership applications.
At a meeting with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken at the UN, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu offered mixed signals. He reaffirmed his country’s support for NATO’s “open door” policy and its understanding of the desire of Finland and Sweden to join the alliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But he also reiterated Erdogan’s demands to eliminate Turkey’s security concerns regarding the candidate countries.
“Turkey supported NATO’s open door policy even before this war,” he said. “But with regard to these candidate countries, we also have legitimate security concerns that they support terrorist organizations, and there are restrictions on the export of defense products,” he said.
“We understand their security concerns, but Turkey’s security concerns must also be addressed, and this is one issue we must continue to discuss with friends and allies, including the United States,” Cavusoglu said.
Speaking to Turkish journalists, Cavusoglu later stepped up his criticism, accusing Sweden of not only supporting groups affiliated with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party or the PKK, but also supplying weapons to Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey sees as a continuation of the militants. group.
“Everyone says that Turkey’s concerns need to be addressed, but it should not be just words, it should be implemented,” he said.
His remarks came as US officials tried to determine how serious Erdogan, who is often unsure, was serious about the case and what it might take to force him to step down. Meanwhile, U.S. officials in their public statements essentially ignore Erdogan’s comments.
While not acknowledging Erdogan’s complaints against Finland and Sweden, Blinken stressed that Washington would work to make NATO’s enlargement process a success.
“Today, Finland and Sweden have submitted their applications, and this is, of course, a process, and we will work on this process as allies and partners,” Blinken said.
Stressing the sensitivity of the subtle diplomacy needed to fight a rebellious ally within a 30-member alliance that depends on consensus, U.S. officials declined to comment on Turkey’s position. A joint statement issued after Wednesday’s meeting mentions neither Finland nor Sweden at all, but only casually mentions NATO.
A statement from the six proposals said the two men met “to reaffirm their strong co-operation as NATO partners and allies” and pledged to “deepen bilateral co-operation through constructive and open dialogue”.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price repeatedly stated that “we should not speak on behalf of the Turkish government” when asked about Turkey’s position.
At stake is the opportunity for the United States and its NATO partners to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by strengthening and expanding the alliance, the exact opposite of what President Vladimir Putin hoped to achieve by starting the war.
But Erdogan’s views that he could shatter Sweden’s and Finland’s hopes for membership also underscore the potential weakness Putin has tried to exploit in the past – the cumbersome nature of a consensus-driven alliance where one member can block actions supported by others. 29.
Erdogan’s verbal volleys toward Finland and Sweden, originally seen in Washington and other NATO capitals as an easily resolved minor obstacle to the alliance’s expansion after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are of more concern as the two northern countries filed official bids on Wednesday. hoping to join as soon as possible.
Even if they are overcome, objections from Turkey, one of 30 NATO members who have expressed reservations about enlargement, could delay Finland and Sweden’s accession to the alliance for several months, especially if other countries follow suit in search of concessions. their votes.
Erdogan, who has become increasingly authoritarian over the years, is known as an unpredictable leader, and there have been cases where his words have diverged from those of Turkish diplomats or other high-ranking officials in his government.
“I do not rule out a possible rift between Turkish diplomats and Erdogan. There have been examples of such a gap in the past, ”said Barchin Yanc, a journalist and Turkish foreign policy commentator.
For example, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Berlin on Sunday after discussions with Turkish officials that “Turkey has made it clear that it does not intend to block membership.” Meanwhile, Blinken and other foreign ministers, including Germany’s chief diplomat Annalena Burbock, expressed full confidence that all NATO members, including Turkey, would welcome the two newcomers.
However, on Monday and again on Wednesday, Erdogan surprised many by doubling his criticism of Finland and Sweden, accusing them of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers terrorists, and imposing restrictions on Turkey’s military sales.
Gonul Tol, program director for Turkey at the Middle East Institute, said that although Erdogan often speaks harshly, he is, after all, eager to come and do “rational things.”
“Erdogan is unpredictable. But at the same time he is a very pragmatic actor, ”she said. Tol said Erdogan likes to negotiate and insists on “maximalist demands” during the talks. “Eventually he agrees to much less,” she said.
She noted that Erdogan’s grievances against Western countries over the Kurds are not new and that tensions between Turkey and the United States over military supplies are long-standing.
After Turkey was excluded from the program to develop advanced F-35 fighters after the purchase of the Russian air defense system, Turkey insists that the US sell it new F-16 fighters or at least upgrade the existing fleet. Although they have nothing to do with NATO enlargement, neither resolution can help persuade Erdogan to renounce his objections.
Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that his discussions on the issue were “positive”, but did not offer details.
This was announced by Fraser from Ankara, Turkey.