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Stalled Finnish and Swedish Nato bids may drag on, says Nato chief

Turkey's blockage of Sweden's and Finland's NATO membership bids may not be resolved in time for the alliance's summit later this month, according to NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

Stalled Finnish and Swedish Nato bids may drag on, says Nato chief
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Pentagon in Washington, DC earlier this month. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP

Turkey’s blockage of Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership bids may not be resolved in time for the alliance’s summit later this month, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Sunday.

He said NATO was “working hard” to resolve “legitimate” issues raised by Turkey. Stoltenberg had previously insisted that the two nations would be welcomed “with open arms,” but Turkey has thrown a spanner in the works and blocked their bids.

Ankara accuses them of providing a safe haven for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a “terrorist” group by Turkey and its Western allies. “I would like to see this solved as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said during a joint press conference in Finland with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Sunday.

However, “the summit in Madrid was never a deadline,” he added. Earlier in June during a visit to Washington, Stoltenberg said his “intention” was to have the issue sorted out before the meeting due to begin on June 28. Stoltenberg conceded Ankara had raised “legitimate concerns.”  

“This is about terrorism. It’s about weapons exports,” he said. “We have to understand and remember that no other NATO ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Turkey. And also that Turkey is an important ally with a strategic geographic location,” he stressed.

Sweden, and Finland in particular, have historically tried to steer clear of angering nearby Russia but shed their reluctance to join NATO after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine — which had unsuccessfully sought to join the alliance.

Any NATO membership deal must be unanimously approved by all 30 members of the alliance. The two Nordic countries have repeatedly expressed surprise at Turkey’s objections, saying Ankara had conveyed support for their membership bids until they submitted them.

“We have been surprised by the position of Turkey,” Niinisto reiterated on Sunday, stressing that Helsinki was taking the concerns “seriously.”

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SWEDEN AND TURKEY

Sweden extradites first Turk since striking Nato deal

Sweden's government said on Thursday that it would hand over a Turkish citizen convicted of credit card fraud to Ankara, the first known extradition since Sweden struck a deal with Turkey promising to deal with extraditions "expeditiously and thoroughly".

Sweden extradites first Turk since striking Nato deal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to block both Sweden and Finland from NATO membership unless they meet several demands, including the extradition of people Ankara considers “terrorists”.

Erdogan accuses the two countries of being havens for Kurdish militants, specifically highlighting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The man facing extradition was identified in Swedish court documents as Okan Kale, and was convicted in Turkey of credit card fraud in 2013 and 2016.

He sought asylum in Sweden in 2011 but his request was denied. He was granted refugee status in Italy in 2014. Kale’s name features on a list published in Turkish media of people that Ankara wants extradited from Sweden.

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The justice ministry would however not comment on whether the man was on a list drawn up by Turkey. It noted that Ankara had sought his extradition in 2021 — long before the Stockholm’s application to join the North Atlantic alliance in May.

“This is a regular, routine matter,” justice ministry spokeswoman Angelica Vallgren told AFP. “The extradition request was received last year.”

Kale has been held in Swedish custody since December 2021.

In an agreement signed by Sweden and Finland at a NATO summit in Madrid in late June, the two countries agreed to examine Turkish extradition requests “expeditiously and thoroughly”.

Erdogan said Sweden had made a “promise” to extradite “73 terrorists”.

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