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Finland and Sweden back on track towards NATO membership as Turkey lifts veto

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberga, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu react after signing a document during a summit in the in Madrid, Spain, June 28, 2022. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberga, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu react after signing a document during a summit in the in Madrid, Spain, June 28, 2022. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

NATO ally Turkey on Tuesday lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a week-long drama that tested Allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The breakthrough came after four hours of talks just before the start of a NATO summit in Madrid, averting an awkward standoff at the gathering of 30 leaders that aims to show resolve against Russia, now considered by the US-led alliance as a direct security threat rather than a possible adversary.

It means Helsinki and Stockholm can press ahead with their bid to join the nuclear alliance, cementing what is expected to be the biggest shift in European security in decades as the two long-neutral Nordic countries seek protection from the EU. NATO.

“Our foreign ministers have signed a trilateral memorandum which confirms that Turkey (…) will support the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become NATO members,” Finnish President Niinisto said in a statement. .

“Concrete steps for our NATO membership will be agreed by NATO allies over the next two days, but that decision is now imminent,” Niinisto said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Turkish Presidency confirmed the deal in separate statements, after talks between NATO chief Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Niinisto .

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Fantastic news as we kick off the NATO summit. Joining Sweden and Finland will make our brilliant alliance stronger and more secure.”

Stoltenberg said the 30 NATO leaders would now invite Finland, which shares a 1,300 km (810 mile) border with Russia, and Sweden to join NATO and they would become official “guests”. . He told reporters: “The door is open – Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership will happen.”

However, even with a formal invitation granted, all 30 NATO allied parliaments must ratify the leaders’ decision, a process that could take up to a year.

CONTRACT CONDITIONS

Turkey’s main demands, which surprised NATO allies in late May, were that the Nordic countries stop supporting Kurdish militant groups on their territory and lift their bans on certain arms sales to Turkey.

Stoltenberg said the terms of the deal meant that Sweden would step up its work on Turkish extradition requests for suspected activists and change Swedish and Finnish laws to toughen their approach to them.

Stoltenberg said Sweden and Finland would lift restrictions on arms sales to Turkey.

Turkey has expressed serious concerns that Sweden is harboring what it says are militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984. Stockholm denies the accusation.

The statement from the Turkish presidency said that the quadripartite agreement reached on Tuesday meant: “Full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against the PKK and its affiliates”.

He also said that Sweden and Finland “show solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”.

US President Joe Biden, who arrived in Madrid ahead of a dinner with fellow NATO leaders, did not directly address the issue in his public comments with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and King Felipe of Spain.

But he underscored the unity of the alliance, saying NATO was “as galvanized as I believe it has ever been”.

Biden is due to have a meeting with Erdogan at the NATO summit. Before leaving for Madrid, Erdogan said he would push Biden to buy an F-16 fighter jet.

He said he would discuss with Biden the issue of Ankara’s purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Russia – which led to US sanctions – as well as modernization kits from Washington and other bilateral matters.

Resolving the stalemate marked the triumph of intense diplomacy as NATO allies attempt to seal Nordic membership in record time to shore up their response to Russia – especially in the sea Baltic, where Finnish and Swedish membership would give the alliance military superiority. .

In the wider Nordic region, Norway, Denmark and the three Baltic states are already members of NATO. Russia’s war in Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, has helped overturn decades of Swedish opposition to NATO membership.