Finnish president optimistic Turkey's NATO objections can be overcome

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[May 17, 2022] STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -Finland and Sweden should be able to reach an agreement with Turkey over Ankara's objections to the two Nordic countries joining the 30-nation NATO alliance, Finland's president said on Tuesday.

Turkey surprised many NATO allies on Monday by saying it would not support membership for Sweden and Finland after the two countries took the widely anticipated step of agreeing to apply to join the U.S.-led alliance this week.

"Statements from Turkey have very quickly changed and become harder during the last few days," President Sauli Niinisto said during an address to Sweden's parliament.

"But I am sure that, with the help of constructive discussions, we will solve the situation."

Niinisto said he talked by telephone with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a month ago and that the message then had been supportive of Finnish and Swedish membership in NATO.

"But in the last week he has said 'not favourable'," Niinisto said. "That means we have to continue our discussions. I am optimistic."

Turkey says Sweden and Finland harbor individuals it says are linked to groups it deems terrorists, namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.

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Finland's President Sauli Niinisto attends a joint news conference on Finland's security policy decisions at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, May 15, 2022. Heikki Saukkomaa/ Lehtikuva/via REUTERS

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Saturday, ahead of talks with her Turkish counterpart at a NATO meeting in Berlin, that Sweden just like the rest of the European Union considered PKK a terrorist organisation.

Speaking at a news conference on Monday, Erdogan also said Turkey would oppose the NATO bids from those who imposed sanctions on it. Sweden and Finland slapped arms export embargoes on Turkey after its Syria incursion in 2019.

How big an obstacle Turkey's objections will be, remains to be seen, however.

"They know that Sweden and Finland inside the alliance is good for the alliance as a whole and I do not foresee they will block this in the end," Anna Wieslander, Director, Northern Europe, at security policy think tank the Atlantic Council said.

"But they will negotiate along the way."

(Reporting by Simon Johnson, editing by Anna Ringstrom and Niklas Pollard)

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