February 26. 2024. 5:14

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Sweden, Finland and Turkey hold NATO talks, agree to more meetings


Turkey has acknowledged that Sweden and Finland have taken concrete steps to meet Ankara’s concerns over their bids to join NATO and the three will hold further meetings, Sweden’s chief negotiator in the accession process said on Thursday (9 March).

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO, but faced unexpected objections from Turkey which says the two countries harbour members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

“We see that Turkey recognized that both Sweden and Finland have taken concrete steps in this agreement, which is a good sign,” chief negotiator Oscar Stenstrom told a news conference at NATO headquarters after trilateral talks resumed.

“A little step forward, the talks have restarted and we have agreed that we will continue to meet and I can’t say exactly when.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said steps taken by Sweden and Finland to address Ankara’s security concerns were positive, but not enough for Turkey’s ratification of their NATO bid.

By ‘security concerns’ Ankara means that Seden and Finland should extradite “terrorists” such as Kurdish militants and so-called Gülenists as a condition for Ankara lifting its veto. There are much less migrants with Turkish roots in Finland, compared to Sweden.

“We have once again highlighted Turkey’s security concerns and expectations,” he said. “The steps to be taken by the countries will determine the course and speed of this issue.”

In January, Turkey suspended talks set up as part of a trilateral deal agreed in Madrid last year aimed at smoothing Finland and Sweden’s accession process.

The immediate cause was a protest near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm at which a far-right politician burned a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

Stoltenberg: Quran burnings should not prevent Swedish NATO membership

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg spoke out strongly on Wednesday against Turkey’s demands that Sweden changes its freedom of expression laws, just one day before NATO talks between Sweden, Finland and Turkey were set to resume.

Sweden’s NATO application is currently …

But Ankara has consistently said that Sweden in particular has failed to implement its part of the Madrid agreement.

Stenstrom said Sweden had fulfilled its part of the bargain. As part of its efforts to reassure Turkey it is taking its fears over militants seriously, the government will introduce an new anti-terrorism bill to parliament this week.

The new law, work on which started in 2017 after a truck was driven into crowds in Stockholm killing five people, would criminalise “participation in a terrorist organisation”, the government said.

Hungarian foot-dragging

Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO members to not have ratified Sweden’s and Finland’s applications. Other members are hoping the Nordic countries become members at a NATO summit in July.

Hungarian ruling party lawmakers visiting Finland and Sweden could not confirm a date for the Hungarian parliament’s pending ratification of the two Nordic countries’ NATO admission, the leader of the delegation said on Wednesday.

“This is a promising beginning, which however does not suggest when and what the decision will be made,” Csaba Hende, Hungary’s Deputy Speaker of the House representing the ruling Fidesz party told Reuters after meeting Finnish lawmakers in Helsinki.

“It takes normally five to six weeks for a proposal to go through parliament’s decision-making mechanism. This is not a rule, this is a customary proceeding,” he added.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party has said it intends to back the ratification, but Hende said he would still need to work more to address concerns some of his fellow parliamentarians have.

“What I’m working for is to have majority behind (the ratifications),” he said. Hungary’s ruling party has a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Hungary’s ratification process has been stranded in parliament since July, and in February Orbán accused Finland and Sweden of spreading “outright lies” about the quality of democracy and rule of law in Hungary.

Hende said some Hungarians had been offended by what he called allegations of a lack of democracy in Hungary by Nordic members of the European Parliament.

Speaker of the Finnish Parliament Matti Vanhanen said the Hungarian delegation had not set any conditions for ratifying the Finnish NATO bid.

“They fully acknowledged that Finland meets NATO’s membership criteria and they will process Finland’s NATO membership solely on criteria related to NATO membership,” Vanhanen told reporters.