NATO chief says it’s “time” to welcome Finland and Sweden to the alliance

NATO chief says it’s “time” to welcome Finland and Sweden to the alliance


Sweden and Finland have pledged to work with Turkey to address their concerns about joining the alliance, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday, adding it was time to welcome them.

Ankara has accused the two Nordic nations of providing a safe haven for outlaw Kurdish fighters it considers “terrorists”.

“I understand your concerns,” Stoltenberg said at a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Istanbul.

He said Finland and Sweden are keen to work more closely with Turkey to fight “terrorism”.

“It’s also in their interest,” he said.

“It is time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO. Your accession will make our alliance stronger and our people safer.”

Both countries ditched decades of military non-alignment and scrambles to become NATO members in May after Russia invaded Ukraine.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to block their bids and demanded concessions.

In June, Turkey, Sweden and Finland reached an agreement that included provisions on extradition and exchange of information.

“Finland and Sweden have honored their agreement with Turkey,” said Stoltenberg.

“You have become a strong partner in our common fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” he added.

“And they have clearly committed to a long-term engagement with Turkey to address your security concerns.”

So far, with the exception of Turkey and Hungary, all 30 NATO member states have ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland.

New members of the alliance require unanimous approval.

Cavusoglu said Stockholm has taken some steps, including lifting restrictions standing in the way of arms sales to Turkey, but added “it is not possible to say” the July deal was fully implemented.

“We have no intention of harming NATO or blocking its expansion…we want to see concrete steps,” he said.

Ankara is “more hopeful” that Sweden’s new government will address Turkey’s concerns, Cavusoglu added.

Sweden’s new Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will visit Ankara on Tuesday for further talks, the foreign minister said.

Joining NATO is a priority for Sweden’s new right-wing government.

Stoltenberg, who is due to meet Erdogan on Friday, said it was important to finalize the membership bids in order to send a “clear message to Russia”.

“In these dangerous times, it is even more important to complete their accession to avoid any misunderstanding or miscalculation on the part of Moscow and to send a clear message to Russia that NATO’s door remains open,” he said.

“And only the allies decide on NATO membership, nobody else.”

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