Monday, June 27, 2022

Turkey gives mixed signals on comprehensive NATO in meeting with US

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – The United States on Wednesday struggled to gain clarity on the seriousness of its opposition to Turkey from Finland and Sweden joining NATO.As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a tough stand against his membership bids.

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.

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.

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

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

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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 NATO’s 30 members, have so far raised reservations about the expansion, for months in an alliance of Finland and Sweden. Entry can be delayed, 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 Yinan, a journalist and commentator on Turkey’s foreign policy. She said last year that Erdogan and foreign countries There was a “disconnect” between the ministry when the Turkish leader threatened to expel 10 Western diplomats, including the US ambassador, whom he accused of interfering with Turkey’s judiciary.

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.

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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.

“No country has an open, clear stance against terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said on Monday. “We cannot say ‘yes’ to those imposing sanctions on Turkey for joining NATO, which is a security organization.”

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. Both issues are being discussed in Washington this week and some officials believe that although they are unrelated to the NATO expansion question, the proposals could help persuade Erdogan to drop his objections.

Tolle agreed, saying: “This is happening at a time when it is trying to improve relations with Washington, when Turkey is involved in talks to persuade Congress to sell F-16s to Turkey. It is at a time when Erdogan is trying to tarnish his image as a valuable ally. And it is at a time when the invasion of Ukraine has given him the opportunity to reach western capitals. A very dramatic step would be if Turkey actually vetoed Finland and Sweden’s application.___

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

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