Turkey Maintains Threat to Veto Sweden, Finland from Joining NATO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads to this week’s NATO summit in Madrid, threatening to veto Finland’s and Sweden’s bid to join the Atlantic alliance.

Ankara is warning it’s not ready to lift its veto threat of their NATO membership bid ahead of the alliance’s summit in Madrid on Tuesday.  

Erdogan’s chief adviser Ibrahim Kalin, speaking on Turkish TV Sunday, said Turkish demands had not been met. 

Kalin said Turkey has brought negotiations to a certain point and it is not possible for Turkish leaders to take a step back. He said Turkish diplomats told this to their counterparts and made it clear the next step is up to them.  

Erdogan wants Sweden and Finland to end their support of the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the YPG, which is linked to the PKK group that has been fighting the Turkish forces for decades, and which the Turkish government considers a terrorist organization.  

Finland and Sweden support the YPG, as do some NATO members, including the United States, in the war against the Islamic State group.  

Ankara also accuses Stockholm of giving sanctuary to people it says were responsible for the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. Local Turkish media reported Monday the Turkish government has submitted a list of people it wants extradited from Sweden and Finland.  

Turkey’s growing list of demands is a sign that Ankara has a broader agenda, said Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

“Turkey wanted clearly a more expanded big grand bargain with NATO. It’s not getting that,” Aydintasbas said. “Instead, it’s getting a more bilateral conversation (among) Sweden and Finland (and) Turkey, and this has been a source of frustration. Erdogan wanted President (Joe) Biden himself to come into this conversation and put some incentives on the table. This hasn’t happened.” 

Aaron Stein of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia said despite Turkey’s potential veto, Sweden’s and Finland’s security will still be assured from any Russian threat. 

“Turkey can hold back, but they are not going to hold back the alliance. Things will move forward,” Stein said. “And let’s be clear here: The most important NATO member country is the United States. It’s the country that guarantees the security of them all. So, If the U.S. gives security to these two countries — which Joe Biden has effectively done — well, we’ve reassured in terms of what the U.S. will do: It will be to increase allied presence in Finland and Sweden.” 

Erdogan is due to hold a series of meetings at the Madrid summit aimed at resolving the impasse.  

Analyst Aydintasbas said a deal can still be reached.   

“It can drag on, or it can be resolved at the NATO summit. Depends on how (much) bigger reward NATO member states and NATO itself wants to put on the table,” Aydintasbas said. “Also depends on how much pressure there will be on Turkey. I think what Erdogan is seeking is at least visibility with NATO leaders, that he can present to the Turkish public as the global leader that has brought a big diplomatic victory for Turkey.” 

Analysts say Erdogan is falling behind in the polls and needs a boost as he faces reelection a year from now. They also say the president knows that standing up to NATO plays well with his voting base and he may want to retain leverage over his alliance partners beyond the Madrid summit.  


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