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NATO: Sweden, Finland Spat Resolving   05/20 06:31


   ISTANBUL (AP) -- Turkey's leader flatly opposes having Sweden and Finland 
join NATO, but the military alliance's chief said Thursday he was confident the 
standoff would be resolved and the two Nordic nations would have their 
membership requests approved soon.

   Turkey's approval of Finland and Sweden's application to join the Western 
military alliance is crucial because NATO makes decisions by consensus. Each of 
its 30 member countries has the power to veto a membership bid.

   "We have told our relevant friends we would say 'no' to Finland and Sweden's 
entry into NATO, and we will continue on our path like this," President Recep 
Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish youths in a video for Commemoration of Atatrk, 
Youth and Sports Day, a national holiday.

   Ankara is objecting to their membership over security concerns, accusing 
them of supporting outlawed groups that Turkey deems existential threats, as 
well as their restrictions on weapons exports to Turkey.

   Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said during a Thursday 
visit to Denmark's capital, Copenhagen, he was "confident that we will come to 
a quick decision to welcome both Sweden and Finland to join the NATO family."

   "We are addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed, because when an 
important ally (like) Turkey raises security concerns, raises issues, then of 
course the only way to deal with that is to sit down and find common ground," 
Stoltenberg told reporters in Copenhagen, Denmark.

   U.S. President Joe Biden met the leaders of Sweden and Finland on Thursday 
in Washington and expressed full support for their membership.

   Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said his government was open to discussing 
Turkey's concerns.

   "As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey's security, just as Turkey will 
commit to our security. We take terrorism seriously," he said.

   Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her government was reaching 
out to Turkey and other NATO nations "to sort out any issues."

   Finland and Sweden officially applied to join the world's biggest security 
organization on Wednesday. A first meeting of NATO ambassadors to discuss their 
applications failed to reach a consensus. For the moment, no new meeting of 
NATO ambassadors is yet planned.

   Erdogan says Turkey's objections stem from its security concerns and 
grievances with Sweden's -- and to a lesser degree Finland's -- perceived 
support of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and an armed group in 
Syria that Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK. Turkey's conflict with the 
PKK has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984.

   Asked whether Finland might get admitted before Sweden, Stoltenberg replied: 
"We handled this as one process, and we are working with this as one process."

   In his remarks made available Thursday, Erdogan branded the two prospective 
NATO members and especially Sweden as "a focus of terror, home to terror." He 
accused them of giving financial and weapons support to the armed groups, and 
claimed the countries' alleged links to terror organizations meant they should 
not be part of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

   Erdogan's ruling party spokesman, Omer Celik, said Thursday they had proof 
that Swedish weapons were showing up in PKK hands, while also warning the 
United States and France for "giving to the group that kills my country's 
citizens." If NATO is to expand, Celik argued, then potential members must "cut 
off their support to terror groups."

   Turkish officials, including the president, also have pointed to arms 
restrictions on Turkey as a reason for Ankara's opposition to the two countries 
becoming part of NATO.

   Several European countries, including Sweden and Finland, restricted arms 
exports to Turkey following the country's cross-border operation into northeast 
Syria in 2019 with the stated goal of clearing the border area of Kurdish 

   Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish People's Defense Units, or YPG, is directly 
linked to the PKK. American support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, which 
mainly consists of YPG fighters, to combat the Islamic State group has been 
infuriating Ankara.

   Turkey also accuses Sweden and Finland of harboring followers of Fethullah 
Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom the Turkish government blames for 2016 
military coup attempt. Gulen has denied any links to the coup attempt.

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