Finland and Sweden have expressed optimism that a common language can be found with Turkey over its objections to their joining NATO amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at smoothing their path to a military alliance with 30 countries.
Turkey surprised many NATO allies on Monday by saying it would not support Sweden and Finland’s membership after the two countries took a long-awaited step this week by agreeing to apply to join the US-led alliance.
“Turkey’s statements have changed very quickly and become tougher in the last few days,” Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said in a speech to the Swedish parliament.
“But I am confident that through constructive discussion we will resolve the situation.”
Niinista said that a month ago he talked on the phone with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, and that then the message supported the membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO.
“But last week he said ‘unfavorable,'” Niinista said.
“That means we need to continue our discussions. I’m an optimist.”
Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson will travel to the United States to meet with US President Joe Biden on Thursday to discuss applications, the three administrations said Tuesday.
Niinist of Finland said the rapid ratification of the United States could pave the way for membership for the two northern neighbors, who joined the European Union together in 1995.
“If you have a fast process, it will help the whole process and schedule the whole process,” Niinista said at a news conference with Anderson in Stockholm.
Both countries are due to submit their official applications on Wednesday.
The White House, meanwhile, said the administration was confident that NATO could reach a consensus on the bids.
“We know that Sweden and Finland support NATO membership,” said White House spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre.
Turkey says Sweden and Finland are harboring individuals linked to groups it considers terrorists, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom it accuses of plotting a 2016 coup attempt.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said before talks with her Turkish counterpart at a NATO meeting in Berlin on Saturday that Sweden, like other EU countries, considers the PKK a terrorist organization.
Speaking at a news conference Monday, Erdogan also said Turkey would oppose NATO bids by those who imposed sanctions against it.
Sweden and Finland have imposed an embargo on Turkey’s arms exports following its 2019 invasion of Syria.
From Stockholm, Anderson said that Sweden is ready to remove any obstacles in negotiations with Turkey.
“We look forward to a bilateral dialogue with Turkey,” Anderson said.
“I see, in addition to the fact that both Sweden and Turkey are members of NATO, there are also opportunities for the development of our bilateral relations – between our countries.”
The Finnish parliament on Tuesday, as expected, approved by 188 votes to eight a proposal to apply for NATO membership.
Niinistö and the government officially decided on Sunday that Finland would apply, but the decision awaited official approval by parliament.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pek Haavista told reporters that the country’s ambassador to NATO would submit an application to NATO in Brussels, possibly on Wednesday along with Sweden.
The extent of Turkey’s objections remains to be seen.
“They know that Sweden and Finland inside the alliance are good for the alliance as a whole, and I don’t expect them to block that in the end,” said Anna Wislander of the Atlantic Council’s think tank on security.
“But they will negotiate along the way.”