AP

Will Turkey upend NATO expansion? US officials seek clarity

May 17, 2022, 9:04 PM | Updated: 9:31 pm

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a welcoming ceremony for his Algerian counterpar...

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a welcoming ceremony for his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, May 16, 2022.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

WASHINGTON (AP) — With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan taking an increasingly tough line against the NATO membership bids of Finland and Sweden despite far less strident statements from some of his top aides, U.S. officials are trying to determine how serious the often mercurial leader is and what it might take to get him to back down.

Amid the contradictory signals from Ankara over the expected applications, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday in New York in a new effort to clarify Ankara’s position after previous attempts appear to have only clouded the situation.

Underscoring the sensitivity of the delicate diplomacy required to deal with a potentially recalcitrant ally, the Biden administration seems to have taken to ignoring Erdogan saying he cannot allow the two nations to join NATO due to their alleged support for groups Turkey sees as security threats. Instead, the administration is focusing on remarks made in closed-door meetings by lower-ranking Turkish officials.

“It is not for us to speak for the Turkish government,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said repeatedly on Tuesday in response to multiple questions about what the U.S. understands Turkey’s position to be and whether Turkey had demanded anything from the United States in return for agreeing to Finland’s and Sweden’s memberships.

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 move ever closer to submitting formal applications 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 Yinan, a journalist and commentator on Turkish foreign policy. She said there was a “disconnect” between Erdogan and the Foreign Ministry last year, when the Turkish leader threatened to expel 10 Western diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador, whom he accused of meddling in Turkey’s judiciary.

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, 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.

“Neither country has an open, clear stance against terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said. “We cannot say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey, on joining NATO, which is a security organization.”

Asked about the disparity, Price, the State Department spokesman, would say only that Blinken, after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavuoglu and others over the weekend, “came away with the same sense of confidence that there was strong consensus for admitting Finland and Sweden into the alliance if they choose to join, and we’re confident we’ll be able to preserve that consensus.”

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. Discussions on both issues are taking place in Washington this week and some officials believe that while they are unrelated to the NATO enlargement question, resolutions to either could help persuade Erdogan to drop his objections.

Tol agreed and said: “This is happening at a time when he’s trying to mend ties with Washington, when Turkey is involved in negotiations to convince Congress to sell F-16s to Turkey. This is a time when Erdogan is trying to burnish his image as a valuable ally. And this is a time when the invasion of Ukraine has given him an opportunity to reach out to Western capitals. So against that background it would be a very dramatic step if Turkey in fact vetoes the application of Finland and Sweden.” ___

Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

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

AP

American Airlines put an unspecified number of employees on leave for their involvement in an incid...

Associated Press

American Airlines CEO calls removal of Black passengers from Phoenix flight ‘unacceptable’

American Airlines put an unspecified number of employees on leave for their involvement in an incident in which several Black passengers were removed from a flight in Phoenix.

1 day ago

FILE - Crystal Baziel holds the Pan-African flag Monday, June 19, 2023, during Reedy Chapel A.M.E C...

Associated Press

The beginner’s guide to celebrating Juneteenth

For more than one-and-a-half centuries, the Juneteenth holiday has been sacred to many Black communities. It marks the day in 1865 enslaved people in Galveston, Texas found out they had been freed — after the end of the Civil War, and two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Since it was designated a federal […]

3 days ago

A Boeing 737 Max suffered damage to parts of the plane's structure after it went into a “Dutch ro...

Associated Press

Plane that did ‘Dutch roll’ on flight from Phoenix suffered structural damage, investigators say

A Boeing 737 Max suffered damage to parts of the plane's structure after it went into a “Dutch roll” during a flight from Phoenix last month.

7 days ago

This photo provided by Randy Shannon shows Mooney Falls on the Havasupai reservation outside the vi...

Associated Press

Dozens report illness after trips to waterfalls near Grand Canyon

Dozens of hikers say they fell ill during trips to a popular Arizona tourist destination that features towering blue-green waterfalls deep in a gorge neighboring Grand Canyon National Park.

8 days ago

Mugshot of Rudy Giuliani, who was processed Monday, June 10, 2024, in the Arizona fake electors cas...

Associated Press

Rudy Giuliani posts $10K cash bond after being processed in Arizona fake electors case

Rudy Giuliani, a former New York City mayor and Donald Trump attorney, was processed Monday in the Arizona fake electors case.

11 days ago

FILE - White House former chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters at the White House, Wed...

Associated Press

Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows pleads not guilty in Arizona fake elector case

Former Donald Trump presidential chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump 2020 Election Day operations director Michael Roman pleaded not guilty Friday in Phoenix to nine felony charges for their roles in an effort to overturn Trump's Arizona election loss to Joe Biden.

14 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Will Turkey upend NATO expansion? US officials seek clarity