Sweden and Finland have applied to join NATO, but have faced opposition from Turkey, which accuses them of supporting ‘terrorists’.
The security concerns expressed by Turkey in its opposition to Finland and Sweden joining NATO are legitimate, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Finland.
Sweden and Finland last month applied to join the Western military alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But they have faced opposition from Turkey, which accused them of supporting and harboring Kurdish militants and other groups Ankara considers “terrorists”.
“These are legitimate concerns. This is about terrorism, it is about arms exports,” Stoltenberg told a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Sunday in Nmetaali, Finland.
Stoltenberg said Turkey was an important NATO ally because of its strategic location on the Black Sea between Europe and the Middle East, and he cited the support Ankara has given Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.
“We must remember and understand that no NATO ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkiye,” Stoltenberg said, using the Turkish word for the country’s name, as favored by Turkey and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Stoltenberg and Niinisto said talks with Turkey would continue, but gave no indication of progress in the negotiations.
He also said a NATO meeting in Madrid in late June was “never a deadline” for Finland and Sweden to be accepted as members of the military alliance.
After decades of military non-alignment, Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted Finland and Sweden to apply to join NATO.
However, Erdogan accuses the Nordic nations of supporting Kurdish militants considered “terrorists” by Turkey and has vetoed their entry into the 30-member alliance.
Demands from Ankara to Helsinki and Stockholm include the lifting of restrictions on arms exports to Turkey and the extradition of members of certain Kurdish organizations who oppose Erdogan’s government.
The NATO chief has been working to resolve the dispute in recent weeks.
Stoltenberg will visit Sweden on Monday for talks with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson.