BUCHAREST (AP) — Sweden and Finland have made some progress in meeting Ankara’s security concerns but still need to undertake “concrete steps” to win Turkey’s approval for their NATO membership bids, the Turkish foreign minister said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg underlined that “it is time to welcome them as full fledged members of the alliance.” The military alliance is eager to add the two Nordic nations to its ranks.
Sweden and Finland abandoned their longstanding policies of military nonalignment and applied for membership in the alliance after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, amid concerns that Russia might target them next.
Turkey, which has accused the Nordic countries of ignoring threats to Turkey from Kurdish militants and other groups that it considers as terrorists, has not endorsed their accession. The parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify their applications. The 28 other NATO states have already done so.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts in the sidelines of a NATO meeting in Bucharest on Tuesday.
“These two countries have taken some steps to fulfill their obligations. We do not ignore the steps that were taken,” Cavusoglu told Turkish journalists on Wednesday. “However, there is no concrete development yet on some issues such as the extradition (of suspects wanted by Turkey) and the freezing of terrorist assets.”
“We reminded (them) that in the end, it’s the Turkish people and the Turkish parliament that needs to be convinced,” he said.
The minister of Sweden and Finland sounded more upbeat.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told Sweden broadcaster SVT that “progress was being made” regarding NATO membership, and that he would soon travel to Turkey.
“Further discussions await there with my Turkish foreign minister colleague. I am also looking forward to having the opportunity to make reconciliations,” Billström said.
The minister added: “as the talks moves forward, we can probably eventually reach a point where the (Turkish) parliament can ratify” Sweden and Finland’s accession.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Finnish media that the discussions took place in a constructive, matter-of-fact spirit.
“We’ve received confirmation (from Turkey) that the conditions for Finland have also been fulfilled in many ways as previously agreed,” Haavisto told the Finnish public broadcaster YLE in comments published Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he’s confident the two Nordic countries would soon join the alliance. He told reporters in Bucharest that relative to previous NATO enlargements, the current process “is happening in record speed.”
“Turkey, Sweden and Finland are engaging directly, as well as with NATO to make sure that Turkey’s concerns are fully addressed, including concerns about its security. That process has been moving forward and I’m very confident… that Finland and Sweden will soon be formally new members of the alliance,” he said.
Cavusoglu said Sweden’s new government was more “sincere” and “determined than the previous government” in meeting Turkey’s security demands and had made some legislative changes.
“We still need to see their implementation. Some laws will come into force with the new year,” Cavusoglu said.