ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he will speak to Finland on Saturday, while maintaining his opposition to Finnish and Swedish NATO membership bids over their history of hosting members of groups Ankara deems terrorists.
Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO on Wednesday, following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Erdogan said he had discussed the issue with the Dutch prime minister on Friday and would also speak to Britain on Saturday. He did not specify the people he would speak to in Finland and Britain.
“Of course we will continue all these discussions for the sake of not interrupting diplomacy,” Erdogan told reporters.
Ankara says Sweden and Finland harbour people linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.
Western leaders have expressed confidence that Ankara’s objections will not be a roadblock for the NATO accession process of the Nordic countries without spelling out how Turkey’s position could be changed.
Erdogan on Friday criticised the West for not viewing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia as a terrorist group while viewing the PKK as such. Turkey views both groups as identical.
“Currently there is a terrorist organisation in many European countries, especially in Germany, in the Netherlands, in Sweden, in Finland and in France,” he said.
Erdogan has previously said that Swedish and Finnish delegations should not bother coming to Ankara to convince it to approve their NATO bids and that “terrorists” would have to be returned to Turkey before approval is given.
Turkey’s approach to the NATO accession process of Sweden and Finland is not a bilateral issue between Washington and Ankara, the U.S. State Department said on Friday, but added that Washington was speaking with Ankara and it remained confident that the dispute would be overcome.
Finland and Sweden say they have been spurred into joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, reversing generations of military non-alignment to bring about the biggest shakeup in European security in decades.
Turkey surprised NATO allies last week by objecting to the move, pressing Sweden to halt support for Kurdish militants it considers part of a terrorist group. It pressed both Sweden and Finland to lift their bans on some arms sales to Turkey.
While the problem officially is between Sweden, Finland and Turkey, many analysts have said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan may be aiming to use this moment to push Washington to act on some of the long-standing issues that have weighed on bilateral ties between the two NATO allies.