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NATO talks with Finland, Sweden falter but will continue

BRUSSELS (AP) – NATO envoys failed to reach a consensus on Wednesday on whether to start membership talks with Finland and Sweden, diplomats said, as Turkey renewed its objections to the two Nordic countries joining.

The envoys met at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels after Finland and Sweden’s ambassadors submitted written applications to join the military organisation, in a move that marks one of the biggest geopolitical ramifications of Russia’s war on Ukraine – and which could rewrite Europe’s security map.

The diplomats, who did not want to be named because of the sensitive nature of the proceedings, declined to say who or what was holding up the procedure. They pointed to the messages from many of the 30 NATO allies welcoming Finland and Sweden’s request.

NATO officials also refused to provide details. They underlined remarks earlier on Wednesday by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, that “we are determined to work through all issues and reach a rapid conclusion”. Meetings and diplomatic outreach aimed at resolving the problem will continue.

Turkey is the only ally to have clearly voiced its opposition.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists Finland and Sweden must show more respect for Turkish sensitivities about terrorism.

He is refusing to budge over what he said is their alleged support for Kurdish militants.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Sweden’s Ambassador to NATO Axel Wernhoff shake hands during a ceremony to mark Sweden’s and Finland’s application for membership in Brussels, Belgium. PHOTO: AP

Erdogan accuses the two countries of turning a blind eye to activities of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) even though the group is on the European Union’s anti-terror blacklist.

“You will not hand over terrorists to us, but you will ask us to allow you to join NATO.

“NATO is a security entity… Therefore, we cannot say ‘yes’ to depriving this security organisation of security,” he said on Wednesday.

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic said his country should follow suit.

Milanovic is feuding with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic on domestic issues.

“We should follow Turkey’s example,” Milanovic said. “Turkey will sell its NATO status at a high price.”

Before Croatia ratifies the pair’s NATO bid, Milanovic wants a change of neighbouring Bosnia’s electoral law in favour of Bosnian Croats.

But Plenkovic’ conservative party enjoys a small majority over the socialists in parliament, and would likely carry the vote on Finland and Sweden’s NATO bids.

The day had started off on an upbeat note in Brussels. Stoltenberg had said the military alliance stands ready to seize a historic moment and move quickly on allowing Finland and Sweden to join its ranks, after the two countries submitted their membership requests.

The official applications set a security clock ticking. Russia, whose war on Ukraine spurred them to join the alliance, has warned that it wouldn’t welcome such a move.

“I warmly welcome the requests by Finland and Sweden to join NATO. You are our closest partners,” Stoltenberg said. “We all agree that we must stand together, and we all agree that this is a historic moment which we must seize.”

“This is a good day at a critical moment for our security,” a beaming Stoltenberg said, as he stood alongside the two envoys.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that the alliance stop expanding toward Russia’s borders, and several NATO allies have signalled that they stand ready to provide security support to Finland and Sweden during the time it takes to become full members.

The countries will only benefit from NATO’s Article 5 security guarantee – the part of the treaty that pledges that any attack on one member would be considered an attack on them all – once the membership ratification process is concluded, probably in a few months.