In meeting with US, Turkey gives mixed signals on wider NATO

May 17, 2022, 9:04 PM | Updated: May 19, 2022, 5:52 am
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the ...

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu at the United Nations Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (Eduardo Munoz/Pool via AP)

(Eduardo Munoz/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States struggled Wednesday to get clarity from Turkey over the severity of its opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took an increasingly tough line against their membership bids.

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

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

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

Later, speaking to Turkish journalists, Cavusoglu stepped up his criticism, accusing Sweden of not just backing groups linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, but also providing arms to Syrian Kurdish fighters, whom Turkey views as an extension of the militant group.

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

His remarks came as U.S. officials try to determine how serious the often mercurial Erdogan is about the matter and what it might take to get him to back down. In the meantime, U.S. officials have been essentially ignoring Erdogan’s comments in their public statements.

Without acknowledging Erdogan’s complaints about Finland and Sweden, Blinken stressed that Washington would work to ensure the NATO expansion process is successful.

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

Underscoring the sensitivity of the delicate diplomacy required to deal with a recalcitrant ally within a 30-member alliance that depends on consensus, U.S. officials have refused to comment on Turkey’s position. A joint statement released after Wednesday’s meeting did not mention Finland or Sweden at all and made only a passing reference to NATO.

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

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

At stake for the United States and its NATO partners is an opportunity to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by strengthening and expanding the alliance — the very opposite of what President Vladimir Putin hoped to achieve in starting the war.

But Erdogan’s suggestions that he could derail Sweden’s and Finland’s membership hopes also highlight a potential weakness that Putin has tried to exploit in the past — the unwieldy nature of the consensus-run alliance where a single member can block actions supported by the other 29.

Initially seen in Washington and other NATO capitals as an easily resolved minor distraction to the process of enlarging the alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Erdogan’s verbal volleys toward Finland and Sweden are attracting more concern as the two Nordic nations submitted formal applications Wednesday with the hope of joining as quickly as possible.

Even if they are overcome, objections from Turkey, which is the only one of NATO’s 30 members to have raised reservations about the expansion so far, could delay Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to the alliance for months, particularly if other nations follow suit in seeking concessions for their votes.

Erdogan, who has grown increasingly authoritarian over the years, is known to be an unpredictable leader and there have been occasions when his words have been at clear odds with what Turkish diplomats or other senior officials in his government have said.

“I don’t exclude a possible disconnect between Turkish diplomats and Erdogan. In the past there have been examples of such disconnect,” said Barcin Yinanc, a journalist and commentator on Turkish foreign policy.

For instance, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Berlin on Sunday after discussions with Turkish officials that “Turkey has made it clear that their intention is not to block membership.” Meanwhile, Blinken and other foreign ministers, including Germany’s top diplomat, Annalena Baerbock, expressed absolute 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 militants and others whom Turkey considers to be terrorists and of imposing restrictions on military sales to Turkey.

Gonul Tol, director of the Turkey program at the Middle East Institute, said that while Erdogan often talks a tough line, he tends to come around in the end and do the “rational” thing.

“Erdogan is unpredictable. But at the same time, he’s a very pragmatic actor,” she said. Tol said Erdogan likes to negotiate and pushes for “maximalist demands” during the negotiations. “He ends up settling for much less than that,” she said.

She noted that Erdogan’s grievances with Western countries over the Kurds are not new and that strains between Turkey and the United States over military supplies are long-standing.

Having been dropped from the F-35 advanced fighter jet development program after buying a Russian air defense system, Turkey has been pressing the U.S. to sell it new F-16 fighters or at the very least refurbish its existing fleet. While they are unrelated to the NATO enlargement question, resolutions to either could help persuade Erdogan to drop his objections.

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

___

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

In this photo provided by Grand Canyon National Park, an adult bison roams near a corral at the Nor...
Associated Press

Grand Canyon won’t seek volunteers to kill bison this fall

A bison herd that lives almost exclusively in the northern reaches of Grand Canyon National Park won't be targeted for removal this fall.
5 hours ago
South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Youngse speaks during a news conference in Seoul, South Kore...
Associated Press

Seoul urges China, Russia to prevent North Korean nuke test

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A top South Korean official said Monday that North Korea is increasingly targeting the South with its nuclear arms program, and urged China and Russia to persuade the North not to conduct a widely expected nuclear test. Unification Minster Kwon Youngse’s comments came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un […]
5 hours ago
FILE - Pipes at the landfall facilities of the 'Nord Stream 2' gas pipline are pictured in Lubmin, ...
Associated Press

EU countries adopt mandatory gas storage amid Russia’s cuts

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union countries agreed Monday that all natural gas storage in the 27-nation bloc should be topped up to at least 80% capacity for next winter as they prepare for the possibility of Russia further reducing deliveries. The EU is trying to slash its use of Russian energy amid the Kremlin’s war […]
5 hours ago
Water-filled barriers have been installed by police outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition...
Associated Press

Will he go or not? Hong Kong awaits word on Xi Jinping visit

HONG KONG (AP) — Will he go or not? Chinese President Xi Jinping kept Hong Kong guessing on Monday about his possible appearance at the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule. The government has yet to say whether he will be physically present for the events, which include the inauguration […]
5 hours ago
A Norwegian national flag flutters over flowers and rainbow flags that are placed at the scene of a...
Associated Press

Norway: Suspect in deadly Pride shooting agrees to custody

OSLO, Norway (AP) — The suspect in Saturday’s mass shooting during an LGBTQ festival in Oslo has agreed to be held in pretrial custody for four weeks and will therefore not appear in court on Monday, a Norwegian court said. Zaniar Matapour, a 42-year-old Norwegian citizen originally from Iran, was arrested shortly after the predawn […]
5 hours ago
From left, Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, France's Pr...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: G7 provides forum for like-minded democracies

ELMAU, Germany (AP) — In 1975, leaders of the world’s wealthy democracies gathered to deal with an energy crisis sparked by a war and rampant inflation. Those same sore points are bedeviling their successors representing 46% of the global economy at this week’s Group of Seven summit, with high consumer and energy prices threatening to […]
5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
In meeting with US, Turkey gives mixed signals on wider NATO