Finland, Sweden Set for Top Level Talks on NATO With Turkey

The leaders of Finland and Sweden are set to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday in a bid to convince him to drop the objections to their membership in NATO.

Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson are slated to meet Erdogan in Madrid, alongside Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Niinisto’s office said on Twitter on Monday. Their meeting is preceded by a round of talks hosted by NATO in Brussels.

Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO in May following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, only to have their accession immediately stalled by Erdogan, who is demanding they do more to clamp down on Kurdish groups it views as terrorists. Allowing sales of weapons is another key demand by Erdogan.

Turkey has power to veto the accession of the two Nordic countries, as a sign off is needed by all 30 member countries of the alliance. It’s chosen to stop the two from even starting talks on the terms of their entry.

Heads of state from NATO countries are meeting this week in the Spanish capital to decide on a strategic direction for the alliance. While all sides have insisted the summit is no deadline to resolve the conflict with Turkey, pressure is building to prevent the situation from becoming deadlocked.

“The longer the situation remains unresolved, the more the alliance’s united front begins to fray,” Iro Sarkka, a NATO expert at the University of Helsinki, said in an interview. “NATO’s active role is needed to resolve the situation, to bring the parties to the same table.”

“We don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, but it seems it’s a conscious choice to make it appear as though these three countries are the ones negotiating, and diffuse the role of the US,” she said. “But in the end, that’s where the solution is likely to come from — the US stepping in to make a deal with Turkey to resolve the issue.”