U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken has called for Sweden and Finland to be accepted into NATO “as quickly as possible,” although his Turkish counterpart dismissed the possibility of any link between their accession and Turkey’s request for F-16 fighter jets.
Blinken is in Turkey for the first time since he was appointed two years ago. The trip comes after the country and neighboring Syria were hit by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on February 6, 2023 that has left nearly 45,000 dead.
Turkey has delayed the Nordic countries admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation(NATO), citing concerns over terrorism. Meanwhile, members of the U.S. Congress have tied approval of the F-16 deal to Ankara retracting its opposition to the NATO enlargement.
“We’re confident that NATO will formally welcome them in soon,” Blinken told a joint news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara.
“And when that happens, it will enhance the security of every NATO member, including the United States, including Turkey,” Blinken iterated.
Cavusoglu repeated Turkey’s position that it would be willing to approve Finland joining NATO before Sweden. Turkey has complained about what it sees as Stockholm’s tolerance of support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a 39-year insurgency against Ankara.
“Unfortunately PKK supporters are still present in Sweden. They are recruiting people and they are financing terror acts and they are carrying out terror propaganda in Sweden because they don’t want Sweden to become a NATO member.”Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu
While acknowledging that Sweden had made constitutional changes in a bid to satisfy Turkey’s demands, Cavusoglu said that more needs to be done to “convince our parliament and people.”
Ankara has also been angered by Sweden allowing protests against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and not preventing an anti-Islam activist from burning the Quran, the Muslim holy book, in a separate, solitary protest.
Sweden Hopeful To Join NATO With Finland
Swedish Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson disclosed on Monday, February 20, 2023 that he remained “convinced that (Sweden and Finland) will join together.”
Kristersson added, “Ultimately, it is a Turkish decision to decide on ratification, that has not changed.”
In Ankara, Cavusoglu made clear his country objects to the sale of F-16 jets being tied to ratifying the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland which must be agreed by all 30 members of the alliance. Only the parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have yet to give consent.
“It would not be right or fair to make two independent issues; the two countries’ NATO membership and the purchase of F-16s, conditional on each other. It would not be possible for us to purchase the F-16s under these conditions.”Mevlut Cavusoglu
Ankara has been seeking to upgrade its F-16 fleet after it was kicked off the project to develop the next-generation F-35 fighter following its acquisition of Russian air defense missiles.
Underlining the U.S. administration’s support for the F-16 deal, Blinken said it was “very important for ongoing NATO interoperability and in the national interest of the United States.”
Blinken met with U.S. and Turkish military personnel and aid workers at Incirlik Air Base near Adana on Sunday, February 19, 2023. They have been working to provide vital aid and assistance to the disaster zone.
Blinken promised a further $100 million in aid to help Turkey and Syria on top of the $85 million that U.S. President Joe Biden announced for Turkey and Syria days after the earthquake.
Also on Sunday, Blinken took a helicopter tour of Hatay with Cavusoglu. Hatay is one of the provinces worst hit by the earthquake.
Blinken met with President Erdogan later on Monday. They were expected to discuss the NATO bids of Sweden and Finland, and Russia’s war in Ukraine as well as the effects of the earthquake.