Erdogan says Turkey does not support Sweden’s accession to NATO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds a press conference during the NATO Summit at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Hermann/Paul/File Photo

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ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday it was not possible for NATO member Turkey to support Sweden and Finland’s plans to join the accord, saying the northern countries were “home to many terrorist organisations”.

Although Turkey has officially supported enlargement since it joined NATO 70 years ago, its opposition could pose a problem for Sweden and Finland given the new members’ need for a unanimous agreement.

Finland’s plan to apply for NATO membership, announced Thursday, and expectations that Sweden will follow, will lead to an expansion of the Western military alliance that Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to prevent by launching an invasion of Ukraine.

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“We are following developments regarding Sweden and Finland, but we do not hold positive opinions,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, adding that it was a mistake for NATO to accept Greece as a member in the past.

“As Turkey, we do not want to repeat similar mistakes. Moreover, the Scandinavian countries are guest houses for terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said.

“They are even members of parliament in some countries. We can’t be in favor,” he added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had said the Finns would be “warmly welcomed” and promised a “smooth and rapid” accession process, which is also supported by Washington.

But Turkey has repeatedly criticized Sweden and other Western European countries for its dealings with organizations Ankara considers terrorist, including the Kurdish militant groups the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and followers of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Ankara says Gulen’s followers carried out a coup attempt in 2016. Gulen and his supporters deny the accusation.

Aaron Stein, director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said on Twitter: “Turkish national security elites view Finland and Sweden as almost hostile, given the presence of the PKK and Gülenists. It would take me the arm to get approval.”

The Swedish and Finnish foreign ministries did not immediately comment on Erdogan’s statement.

NATO says membership is open to any “European country in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and contribute to the security of the North Atlantic region”.

Finland and Sweden are already NATO’s closest partners, taking part in many meetings, being regularly updated on the situation in Ukraine and participating in regular military exercises with NATO allies. Much of their military equipment is interoperable with NATO allies.

However, they cannot take advantage of NATO’s collective defense clause – that an attack on one ally is an attack on all – until they join the alliance.

Moscow on Thursday called Finland’s declaration hostile and threatened retaliation, including unspecified “military-technical” measures.

Turkey has criticized the Russian invasion, sent armed drones to Ukraine and sought to facilitate peace talks between the two sides. But it has not supported Western sanctions against Moscow and is seeking to maintain close trade, energy and tourism ties with Russia.

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Additional reporting by Johan Ahlander in Stockholm, Essie Leto in Helsinki, Darren Poulter in Istanbul and Robin Emmott in Brussels. Editing by Jonathan Spicer and John Boyle

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