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HomeWorldFinnish President says disputes with Turkey are still holding back NATO membership

Finnish President says disputes with Turkey are still holding back NATO membership

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said on Sunday he was optimistic his country would eventually join NATO but acknowledged Turkey had a “disagreement” on a key security-related dispute between the two sides that was holding up the process.

Speaking to Fox News Sunday, Mr Niinistö said his nation – along with Sweden, which is also on deck for full NATO membership – will keep open a line of communication with Turkey in hopes of finding a solution.

As a NATO member, Turkey must agree to Finland’s and Sweden’s applications for membership.

Turkey has long criticized Sweden and Finland for their approach to the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a rebel group with ties to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The SDF is the most important US partner in the long-standing fight against the terrorist group Islamic State in Syria. A large community of Kurdish exiles lives in Sweden in particular.

The three countries reached an agreement last June that at the time appeared to satisfy all sides and pave the way forward.

Turkish officials said they got what they wanted from the deal, which reportedly included commitments by Sweden and Finland to take “concrete steps” to extradite suspected terrorists to Turkey.

Sweden and Finland also said they would investigate and halt any funding or recruitment efforts by the PKK in their countries, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu News Agency reported at the time.

Almost nine months have passed since the signing of this agreement, but NATO memberships remain on hold. Mr Niinistö pointed out on Sunday that there were disagreements over whether the Scandinavian countries would live up to their commitments.

The “European Union has declared the PKK a terrorist organization and this is how we are dealing with it. And I think Sweden too,” he said. “So, in our opinion, we made all the agreements with Turkey last summer in Madrid. They have a different opinion, so let’s discuss further.”

He added that he was “very optimistic” that the two nations would eventually join NATO.

More broadly, Mr Niinistö said that the forthcoming NATO enlargement was a major blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Most Western observers believe Mr Putin thought his war in Ukraine would weaken NATO and create divisions among its members.

Instead, Mr Niinistö said the war was precisely the reason his country wanted to join the alliance.

“What comes after Finland and Sweden, yes, when Putin said that he would demand that NATO not expand any further, that was actually kind of a turning point in our eyes. Because up to now we and others have always assumed that we are militarily neutral of our own volition,” said the Finnish President. “But after Putin’s speech, I’m afraid quite a few of us would have said yes, they ban you from joining. So it was a landmark agreement.”

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