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Friday, December 09, 2022

Turkey gives mixed signals on comprehensive NATO in meeting with US

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by Matthew Lee and Suzanne Fraser

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – The United States struggled to get clarity from Turkey on the seriousness of its opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO on Wednesday, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan increasingly opposed their membership bids. Took a tough stand.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gave mixed signals at a meeting with Foreign Minister Antony Blinken at the United Nations. He reaffirmed his country’s support for NATO’s “open-door” policy and reaffirmed his understanding of Finland and Sweden’s desire to join the alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But he also reiterated Erdogan’s demands that Turkey’s security concerns about candidate nations be addressed.

“Turkey has supported NATO’s open-door policy even before this war,” he said. “But with respect to these candidate countries, we also have legitimate security concerns that they are supporting terrorist organizations and also export restrictions on defense products,” he said.

“We understand their security concerns but Turkey’s security concerns must also be met and this is an issue we should continue to discuss with friends and allies, including the United States,” Cavusoglu said.

Later, speaking to Turkish journalists, Cavusoglu intensified his criticism, accusing Sweden of not only supporting groups affiliated with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, but also providing weapons to Syrian Kurdish fighters, Which Turkey sees as an extension of the terrorist. Group.

“Everyone says that Turkey’s concerns should be met, but it should not be just with words, it should be implemented,” he said.

His remarks came as US officials sought to determine how serious Erdogan, a frequent businessman, was about the matter and what he might have to do to back down. Meanwhile, US officials have essentially been ignoring Erdogan’s comments in their public statements.

Without acknowledging Erdogan’s complaints about Finland and Sweden, Blinken insisted that Washington would work to make the NATO expansion process a success.

“Today we had Finland and Sweden submit their applications and it is certainly a process and we will work through that process as partners and partners,” Blinken said.

US officials have declined to comment on Turkey’s position, underscoring the sensitivity of the delicate diplomacy needed to deal with a resolute ally within the 30-member coalition relying on consensus. A joint statement issued after Wednesday’s meeting did not mention Finland or Sweden at all and only made a reference to NATO.

The six-sentence statement said the two men met “to reaffirm their strong cooperation as partners and NATO allies” and were committed to “deepening bilateral cooperation through constructive and open dialogue”.

Asked about Turkey’s stance on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price repeatedly said “it is not for us to speak for the Turkish government”.

There is an opportunity for the United States and its NATO partners to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by consolidating and expanding the alliance – the exact opposite of what President Vladimir Putin had hoped to achieve in starting the war.

But Erdogan’s suggestion that he could derail Sweden and Finland’s membership hopes also highlights a potential weakness Putin has tried to exploit in the past – the cumbersome nature of a consensus-run coalition where A single member can block tasks supported by the other 29.

Initially seen as an easily resolved minor distraction in the process of expanding the coalition in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in Washington and other NATO capitals, Erdogan’s verbal volleys towards Finland and Sweden are of greater concern because The two Nordic nations submitted formal applications on Wednesday. With the hope of joining soon.

Even if they do go away, objections from Turkey, which is only one of 30 NATO members that have so far raised reservations about the expansion, lingered on for months as the alliance of Finland and Sweden. could delay entry into the U.S., especially if other nations follow suit in seeking concessions. for their vote.

Erdogan, who has become more and more authoritarian over the years, is known to be an unpredictable leader and there have been occasions when his words have been markedly different with those of Turkish diplomats or other senior officials in his government.

“I do not exclude a possible disconnect between Turkish diplomats and Erdogan. There have been examples of such disconnects in the past,” said Barsin Yinak, a journalist and commentator on Turkey’s foreign policy.

For example, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Berlin on Sunday after discussions with Turkish officials that “Turkey has made it clear that they do not intend to block membership.” Meanwhile, Blinken and other foreign ministers, including Germany’s top diplomat, Annalena Barbock, expressed full confidence that all NATO members, including Turkey, would welcome the two newcomers.

Yet on Monday and again on Wednesday, Erdogan surprised many by doubling down on his criticism of Finland and Sweden, accusing them of supporting Kurdish terrorists and others whom Turkey considers terrorists and military sales to Turkey. alleging a ban.

Gonul Tol, director of the Turkish program at the Middle East Institute, said that although Erdogan often speaks of a hard line, in the end he comes and acts “rationally”.

“Erdogan is unpredictable. But at the same time, he is a very practical actor,” she said. Toll said Erdogan prefers to negotiate and insists on “maximum demands” during negotiations. “She settles for much less than that,” she said.

He said Erdogan’s complaints with Western nations about the Kurds are not new and that there are longstanding tensions between Turkey and the United States over military supplies.

Turkey is pressing the US to sell new F-16 fighter jets or at least upgrade its existing fleet, after it was dropped from the F-35 advanced fighter jet development program after buying a Russian air defense system. While they are unrelated to the NATO expansion question, either resolution could help persuade Erdogan to drop his objections.

Cavusoglu said Wednesday that his discussions on that matter were “positive,” but did not give details.

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Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

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