ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey is not in favor of Sweden and Finland joining NATO, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Istanbul on Friday, which could dash the two countries’ hopes for a quick accession to the military alliance.
Erdogan cited concerns about the presence of “terrorists” in both countries. A senior Turkish official later said Ankara wants Sweden and Finland to take a clear stand against supporters of a militant Kurdish group fighting for autonomy in southeastern Turkey. Ankara will conduct negotiations on its membership in the alliance, the official added.
Any expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization requires the unanimous approval of the members of the alliance. Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952.
“We are following the developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we do not have a positive mindset,” Erdogan said in televised remarks after Friday prayers. “Scandinavian countries are like guest houses for terrorist organizations. They even participate in their parliaments. At this point, it’s not possible for us to view it positively.”
Turkey has long complained about insufficient cooperation from NATO and European allies in its fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
US President Joe Biden held a call on Friday with the Swedish and Finnish leaders, the White House said. Separately, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will work with his counterparts across Europe this weekend to “clarify” Turkey’s position on potential members, Under Secretary of State Karen Donfried told reporters.
“It is not clear to me that Turkey is saying it will oppose” the requests, Donfried said, adding that the United States will be a “strong supporter” of the offers if they are submitted.
Erdogan’s move came as a surprise as Sweden had received no indication that Turkey would be opposed to joining NATO, Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in emailed comments.
“The Turkish government has not conveyed any such message to us directly, and it has not done so in the North Atlantic Council,” he said. Linde said he would raise the issue at an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers starting on Saturday. Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto asked for patience with the process and said that he will speak with his Turkish counterpart.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said he hopes all allies will welcome countries’ potential membership and the accession process will be swift.
Alliance spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Despite their orientation toward the US and Western Europe, Finland and Sweden had wagered since the Cold War that their national security was better protected by staying outside NATO. His goal was to avoid upsetting the military balance in the Baltic Sea region and provoking Russia. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused a rethink in both countries.
Turkey has sought a middle ground on the war in Ukraine. Ankara’s government has been reluctant to burn its bridges with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in part out of fear that a breakup would put Turkish forces deployed in Syria at risk of attack by Russian-backed Syrian government troops.
But it has supplied kyiv with deadly Turkish-made drones and has closed its straits and airspace to Russian military ships and aircraft.