HELSINKI : NATO and the United States said on Sunday (May 15) they were confident that Turkish concerns would not hold up bids by Finland and Sweden to join the Western military alliance in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Finland's President Sauli Niinisto confirmed that his country would apply to join the alliance, while Sweden is expected to follow suit promptly, moves that have angered Russia.
Turkey, which had surprised its allies by saying it had reservations about Finnish and Swedish membership, laid out its demands on Sunday on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers in Berlin. Ankara said it wanted the two countries to halt support for Kurdish militant groups that have a presence on their territory, and lift bans on some sales of arms to Turkey.
"I'm confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn't delay the membership," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declined to go into details of closed-door conversations in Berlin but echoed Stoltenberg's position.
"I'm very confident that we will reach consensus on that," Blinken told reporters, adding that NATO was "a place for dialogue".
President Tayyip Erdogan took allies by surprise on Friday by saying Turkey had reservations about the Nordic pair's membership.
Spelling out Turkey's demands on Sunday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said talks with Swedish and Finnish counterparts in Berlin had been helpful. The two countries had made suggestions to respond to Ankara's concerns, which Turkey would consider, while he had provided them proof terrorists were present on their territory, he said.
He singled out Sweden in particular, saying the Kurdish militant group the PKK, banned as terrorists by the United States and EU, had held meetings in Stockholm over the weekend.
Nevertheless, he said Turkey did not oppose the alliance's policy of being open to all European nations who wish to apply.
Any decision on NATO enlargement requires approval by all 30 allies and their parliaments. Ankara, a NATO member for 70 years, will be under immense pressure to yield, NATO diplomats said, because the alliance considers that the accession of Finland and Sweden would hugely strengthen it in the Baltic Sea.
'CALM AND COOL'
Sweden's ruling Social Democrats were poised on Sunday to come out in favour of the country joining NATO, paving the way for an application that would abandon generations of military non-alignment.
Russia's Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine has changed the security calculus in Helsinki and Stockholm, which both remained neutral throughout the Cold War. Moscow has responded to the prospect of the two countries joining NATO by threatening retaliation, including unspecified "military-technical measures".
Niinisto, who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, said the conversation was measured and did not contain any threats.
"He confirmed that he thinks it's a mistake. We are not threatening you. Altogether, the discussion was very, could I say, calm and cool," Niinisto said in an interview with CNN's State of the Union.