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Turkey withdraws its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO

Written by Javed Iqbal

MADRID (AP) – Turkey on Tuesday agreed to lift its opposition to Sweden and Finland joining NATO, ending a stalemate that had clouded a leadership summit that opened in Madrid amid Europe’s worst security crisis in decades, triggered by the war in Ukraine.

After urgent top-level talks with the leaders of the three countries, the Alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “we now have an agreement that paves the way for Finland and Sweden to join NATO.” He called it “a historic decision”.

Among its many shocking consequences, President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has forced Sweden and Finland to abandon their long-standing non-aligned status and apply to join NATO as protection against an increasingly aggressive and unpredictable Russia – which shares a long border with Finland. Under NATO treaties, an attack on any member would be considered an attack on all and trigger a military response from the entire alliance.

NATO operates by consensus, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to block the Nordic couple, insisting that they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups, which Turkey considers terrorists.

After weeks of diplomacy and hours of talks on Tuesday, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said the three leaders had signed a joint agreement to break the congestion.

Turkey said it had “got what it wanted”, including “full cooperation … in the fight against” the rebel groups.

Stoltenberg said the leaders of the alliance of 30 nations will issue a formal invitation to the two countries to join on Wednesday. The decision must be ratified by all individual nations, but he said he was “completely sure” that Finland and Sweden would become members, something that could happen within months.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said the agreement was “good for Finland and Sweden. And it’s good for NATO.”

She said the completion of the membership process should happen “the sooner the better.”

“But there are 30 parliaments that have to approve this and you never know,” Andersson told the Associated Press.

Turkey hailed Tuesday’s agreement as a triumph and said the Nordic nations had agreed to crack down on groups that Ankara considers national security threats, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its Syrian expansion. It said it also agreed “not to impose embargo on the defense industry” against Turkey and to take “concrete steps to extradite terrorist criminals.”

Turkey has demanded that Finland and Sweden extradite wanted persons and lift arms restrictions imposed following Turkey’s military invasion of northeastern Syria in 2019.

Turkey, in turn, agreed to “support at the Madrid Summit in 2022 the invitation of Finland and Sweden to join NATO.”

Details of what had been agreed were unclear. Amineh Kakabaveh, an independent Swedish lawmaker of Kurdish origin whose support the government relies on for a majority in parliament, said it was “worrying that Sweden is not revealing what promises it has made to Erdogan.”

Andersson rejected proposals that Sweden and Finland had submitted too much.

Asked whether the Swedish public will see the agreement as an admission in issues such as the extradition of Kurdish militants whom Ankara considers terrorists, Andersson said, “they will see that this is good for Sweden’s security.”

US President Joe Biden congratulated the three nations on taking a “decisive step.”

Amid speculation about a U.S. role in bringing the stalemate to an end, a senior administration official said Washington did not make any concessions to Turkey to entice it to accept an agreement. But the official said the United States played a crucial role in helping bring the two parties closer together, and Biden spoke with Erdogan on Tuesday morning at the instigation of Sweden and Finland to help encourage negotiations.

The agreement came at the opening of a crucial summit, dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, who will sit down the course of the alliance for the coming years. The summit kicked off with a leadership dinner hosted by King Felipe VI of Spain at the 18th-century Royal Palace of Madrid.

At the top of the agenda in meetings on Wednesday and Thursday is the strengthening of the defense against Russia, and support Ukraine.

Moscow’s invasion on February 24 shook European security and brought shelling of cities and bloody land battles back to the continent. NATO, which had begun to turn its focus on terrorism and other non-state threats, has had to confront a conflicting Russia again.

Biden said NATO was “as united and galvanized as I think we have ever been.”

A Russian missile attack on Monday against a shopping mall in the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk was a grim reminder of the horrors of war. Some saw the timing as a group of seven leaders met in Germany and just before the NATO summit, as a message from Moscow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who will speak to NATO leaders via video on Wednesday, called the attack on the mall a “terrorist” act.

Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko traveled to Madrid to urge the alliance to give its country “whatever it takes” to stop the war.

“Wake up, guys. This is happening now. You’ll be the next one, this is going to knock on your door in an instant,” Klitschko told reporters at the venue.

Stoltenberg said the meeting would draw up a plan for the alliance “in a more dangerous and unpredictable world” – and that meant “we need to invest more in our defense,” Stoltenberg said. Only nine of NATO’s 30 members meet the organization’s target of spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defense. Spain, which hosts the summit, spends only half.

Stoltenberg said Monday that NATO allies will join the summit increase the strength of the Alliance’s rapid reaction force almost eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 soldiers. The troops will be based in their home countries, but dedicated to specific countries on NATO’s eastern flank, where the Alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition.

Beneath the surface, there are tensions within NATO over how the war will end and what concessions, if any, Ukraine should make to end the fighting.

There are also differences in how hard a line one has to take towards China in NATO’s new strategic concept – its priorities and goals once a year. The last document published in 2010 did not mention China at all.

The new concept is expected to outline NATO’s approach to issues from cyber security to climate change – and China’s growing economic and military reach and the growing importance and power of the Indo – Pacific region. For the first time, the leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand are attending the summit as guests.

Some European members are wary of the tough US line towards Beijing and do not want China to be thrown as an opponent.

In the strategic concept, NATO is ready to declare Russia its number one threat.

Russia’s state space agency, Roscosmos, marked the opening of the summit by releasing satellite images and coordinates of the conference hall in Madrid, where it is being held, along with images from the White House, the Pentagon and government headquarters in London, Paris and Berlin.

The agency said NATO was prepared to declare Russia an enemy at the summit, adding that it issued precise coordinates “just in case.”

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Associated Press Writers Aritz Parra, Ciaran Giles, Sylvie Corbet and Zeke Miller in Madrid, Karl Ritter in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, contributed.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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Javed Iqbal

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