Finland and Sweden have expressed optimism that an agreement can be found with Turkey on its objections to joining NATO amid a wave of diplomatic activity aimed at paving their way to the 30-nation military alliance.
Turkey surprised many NATO allies on Monday by saying it would not support Sweden and Finland’s membership after the two countries took the long-awaited step of applying to join the US-led alliance this week.
“Pronunciations from Turkey have changed very quickly and become harsher in recent days,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said during a speech to the Swedish parliament.
“But I am sure that we will resolve the situation with the help of constructive discussions.”
Niinisto said he spoke to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan by phone a month ago and that the message had supported Finland’s and Swedish membership of NATO at the time.
“But for the past week, he has said he is ‘not favorable’,” Niinisto said.
“That means we have to continue our discussions. I’m optimistic.”
Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson will travel to the United States on Thursday to meet US President Joe Biden to discuss the applications, the three governments said separately on Tuesday.
Finland’s Niinisto said a swift US ratification could pave the way to the membership of the two Nordic neighbors, who joined the European Union in 1995.
“If you have a quick process there, it helps the whole process and the timetable for the whole process,” Niinisto told a news conference with Andersson in Stockholm.
Both countries will submit their formal applications on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the White House said the administration is confident NATO can reach an agreement on the bids.
“We know there is a lot of support for Sweden and Finland to join NATO,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Turkey says Sweden and Finland are harboring individuals affiliated with groups it considers terrorists, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group and supporters of Fethullah Gülen, which it accuses of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said Saturday, ahead of talks with her Turkish counterpart at a NATO meeting in Berlin, that Sweden – like the rest of the EU – views the PKK as a terrorist organization.
At a press conference on Monday, Erdogan also said Turkey would oppose the NATO bids of those who imposed sanctions.
Sweden and Finland imposed an arms export embargo on Turkey after the raid on Syria in 2019.
Speaking from Stockholm, Andersson said Sweden was ready to remove any obstacles in the negotiations with Turkey.
“We look forward to a bilateral dialogue with Turkey,” Andersson said.
“In addition, when Sweden and Turkey are members of NATO, there are also opportunities to develop our bilateral relations – between our countries.”
As expected, the Finnish parliament approved a proposal by 188 votes to eight on Tuesday to apply for NATO membership.
Niinisto and the government officially decided on Sunday that Finland would run as a candidate, but the decision was pending formal approval from parliament.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told reporters that the country’s ambassador to NATO would submit his application to NATO along with Sweden in Brussels.
How great the impediment to Turkey’s objections remains to be seen.
“They know that Sweden and Finland within the alliance are good for the alliance as a whole, and I don’t expect them to end up blocking this,” said Anna Wieslander of the Atlantic Council’s security policy think tank.
“But they will negotiate along the way.”