US discounts new Turkish objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO as Erdogan prepares for a trilateral summit in Tehran
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – On the eve of a visit to Tehran, where he will meet with his Iranian and Russian counterparts, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that he might veto bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine.
Erdogan spoke on Monday in Ankara, following a meeting of the Turkish cabinet. Referring to an earlier understanding that Turkey had reached with the two Nordic countries, Erdogan stated, “I repeat it again that we will freeze their NATO accession process if the conditions [set forth by Turkey] are not met.”
“We see that especially Sweden does not give a good impression in this regard,” Erdogan continued. “Turkey’s stance about this issue is very clear,” he affirmed, “the rest is their business.”
US Downplays Significance of Erdogan’s Remarks
Asked about Erdogan’s statement on Monday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price downplayed its significance.
Referring to last month’s NATO summit in Madrid, Price responded that the 30 members of NATO had supported “the application and the ultimate accession” of Finland and Sweden to the alliance.
Indeed, with the heads of state watching on, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu signed “a trilateral memorandum to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns, paving the way for Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership,” NATO said at the time.
The accession to NATO of new members requires a vote of approval by national legislatures.
Referring to the trilateral memorandum signed by Turkey, Finland, and Sweden, Price affirmed that the US “will continue to work with those three countries to see to it that this accession process and ratification” is “as swift and efficient as it can possibly be.”
Why Raise that Issue Now?
It is not clear why Erdogan chose to raise the issue of Finland and Sweden joining NATO on Monday. The most obvious explanation relates to his meeting on Tuesday in Tehran with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Syria is prominent among the issues to be discussed at the Tehran summit. In fact, according to AFP, Syria will “top” the agenda. The French news agency suggested that Erdogan was seeking some form of acquiescence from Moscow for a cross-border attack into Syria.
If so, that suggests the basis for a very cynical deal: Ankara continues to block Swedish and Finnish accession to NATO, while Moscow turns a blind eye to a Turkish assault into Syria.
“The timing of this summit is not a coincidence,” a Russian analyst on international affairs told AFP. “Turkey wants to conduct a ‘special operation’ in Syria, just as Russia is implementing a ‘special operation’ in Ukraine.”
That is also the view of Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, who said that Ankara “wants the blessing of Moscow and Iran before launching its operation,” while in Tehran, “Erdogan is hoping to get ‘the green light’ from Putin and Raisi.”
Mazloum Abdi, head of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, the principal partner of the US-led coalition against ISIS in Syria, has urged “Russia and Iran to restrain Turkey,” AFP reported. “We hope” the Kurds “will not be forsaken during the talks between the big powers,” Abdi said.
There is no consensus among outside observers about what is likely to emerge from the Tehran summit. Other analysts, including Nicholas Heras of the Newsline Institute, believe Russia and Iran will oppose any Turkish cross-border attack into northern Syria.