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Turkey agrees to back Finland, Sweden NATO bid

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto, Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg deliver a statement during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain on June 28, 2022 [Violeta Santos Moura/Reuters]

NATO ally Turkey has lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The breakthrough came on Tuesday after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of 30 leaders that aimed to show resolve against Russia.

The lifting of the veto means that Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their application to join the military alliance, cementing what is set to be the biggest shift in European security in decades, as the two, long neutral Nordic countries seek NATO protection.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkey’s presidency confirmed the accord in separate statements, after talks between the NATO chief, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

Terms of the deal

Stoltenberg said the terms of the deal involved Sweden intensifying work on Turkish extradition requests and amending Swedish and Finnish law to toughen their approach to those seen as threats by Ankara.

Stoltenberg also said Sweden and Finland would lift their restrictions on selling weapons to Turkey.

Turkey has raised serious concerns that Sweden has been harbouring members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. Stockholm has denied the accusation.

The Turkish presidency statement on Tuesday said the four-way agreement meant: “Full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the PKK and its affiliates”.

It also said Sweden and Finland were “demonstrating solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”.

Stoltenberg said NATO’s 30 leaders would now invite Finland, which shares a 1,300km (810-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden to join NATO and that they would become official “invitees”.

The resolution of the deadlock marked a triumph for intense diplomacy as NATO allies try to seal the Nordic accession in record time as a way of solidifying their response to Russia – particularly in the Baltic Sea, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give the alliance military superiority.

Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull said NATO chief Stoltenberg stated that the alliance had “resolved its differences”.

“This allows NATO to put forward a united front in the face of Russian aggression, and that is absolutely core and central to the aims of this summit – not just a united front but an expanded front with two new members,” Hull said, speaking from Madrid.

Turkey’s concerns

Ankara had objected to Sweden and Finland’s bid to join NATO based on what it considers to be the Nordic pair’s lax approach towards groups Turkey has deemed national security threats.

Erdogan had accused Finland, and more particularly Sweden, of offering safe haven to Kurdish rebels who have been waging a decades-long armed uprising against the Turkish state.

Ankara could have prevented Finland and Sweden from joining NATO since all members of the military bloc must agree to accept new members.

Other NATO allies, including France and Spain, had indirectly urged Turkey to yield on its block of the two potential new Nordic members.

Speaking at the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Germany, French President Emmanuel Macron had called for a message of “unity and of force” from NATO in Madrid.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson before a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain on June 28, 2022 [Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office Handout via Reuters]

On Monday, Erdogan said he wanted to see the results of preparatory talks held in Brussels before deciding whether Sweden and Finland had done enough to lift his objections to their membership of NATO.

“We will see what point they [Finland and Sweden] have reached,” he said on Monday before flying to Madrid for the summit.

“We do not want empty words. We want results.”

‘Interest of the alliance’

In addition to Finland and Sweden’s membership bids in the 30-member military alliance, the three-day NATO summit in Madrid will also discuss the Ukraine-Russia war and NATO’s new strategic concept.

Erdogan is expected to meet Biden on Wednesday on the sidelines of the gathering focused on responding to the Kremlin’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

The two leaders have had a chilly relationship since Biden’s election because of US concerns about human rights under Erdogan.

Biden and Erdogan last met briefly in October on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Rome.