(Bloomberg) -- Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto voiced his frustration with Turkey over lack of progress in a dispute that’s preventing the accession of Finland and Sweden into defense alliance NATO.
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The process “is so stuck that it’s really no wonder nothing has been said publicly about progress, because there’s been none,” Niinisto said in an interview on Monday on Finland’s YLE TV1. Still, “that shouldn’t really be taken as bad news, given there’s a sense of playing time here,” he said.
Finland and Sweden last month sought entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, only to have their bids immediately stalled by Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly demanded that the countries -- especially Sweden -- do more to clamp down on Kurdish groups that Turkey views as terrorists.
One meeting has taken place between the three countries and the next hasn’t been arranged, though Finland is willing, Niinisto said, implying Turkey is dragging out the talks. Still, “there’s constant contact, several times a day,” and talks are certain to continue, he said.
“When a spanner is thrown into the works with such aplomb, it’s a part of international diplomacy not to take it out straightaway, to make it look more real,” Niinisto said.
Turkey has veto power as the enlargement of NATO requires unanimity of members. It’s demanding that Sweden and Finland publicly denounce not only the Kurdish group PKK, but also its affiliates before being allowed to join the bloc, and that both countries lift restrictions on arms sales to Ankara. It has also sought the extradition of certain Kurdish people from the Nordic countries.
“It may be that one of Turkey’s goals is to really bring to light the terrorism being targeted against it, and to alter behavior and have that terrorism taken seriously,” Niinisto said, adding that his country “condemns all terrorism.”
Finland’s anti-terror practices align with those of the average NATO country and it has recently revamped related legislation, Niinisto said, “so there’s little we can do to improve.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said Turkey’s concerns are “legitimate” and insisted that NATO’s summit in Madrid at the end of the month “was never a deadline” to resolve the issues.
Niinisto reiterated he’s not keen to have Finland move forward in the accession process ahead of Sweden, having convinced its western neighbor to abandon its policy of military non-alignment. He also invoked security reasons, saying Finland shouldn’t sandwich itself between Russia and a non-NATO country, risking its supply lines.
“A wise defender ensures his defenses have depth,” he said.
(Updates with Niinisto comments from second paragraph)
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