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Sweden, Finland push ahead with NATO bids as Turkey objects

Sweden and Finland on Tuesday pushed ahead with their bids to join NATO

Sweden, Finland push ahead with NATO bids as Turkey objects
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Sweden and Finland on Tuesday pushed ahead with their bids to join NATO even as Turkey insisted it won't let the previously nonaligned Nordic countries into the alliance because of their alleged support for Kurdish militants.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's strongly worded objections caught the two applicants and other NATO members off guard, complicating what was envisioned to be a swift expansion of the alliance in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey's statements have changed very quickly and hardened in recent days. But I am sure that we will resolve the situation with constructive talks, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said during a visit to Stockholm, the Swedish capital.

The Finnish parliament on Tuesday resoundingly rubber-stamped the government's decision to seek membership in a 188-8 vote.

The foreign ministers of both countries signed formal application letters to be handed over jointly on Wednesday at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.

But Erdogan's objections on Friday and again on Monday raised questions about how quickly the application process could advance, as unanimity among all 30 NATO countries is required for new members to join.

The Turkish leader accused the Nordic countries of giving safe haven to terrorists" and imposing sanctions on Turkey an apparent reference to the suspension of Swedish and Finnish weapons exports in 2019 after Ankara sent troops into northern Syria to attack Kurdish fighters.

Erdogan also dismissed a Swedish plan to send a team of diplomats to Turkey to discuss the issue, saying don't wear yourselves out.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said Sweden is still seeking contact with Turkey to "sort out the question marks."

Turkey's objections appeared to have come as a surprise also in Washington, whose relations with Ankara have been strained in recent years.

The U.S. suspended Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet program over Turkey's decision to purchase a Russian missile defense system.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was travelling to Washington for meetings Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Meanwhile, the White House announced that President Joe Biden would meet Niinisto and Andersson in Washington on Thursday to discuss their NATO applications and support for Ukraine among other issues.

European officials expressed hope that Turkey's objections to Finnish and Swedish membership in NATO could be overcome.

Sweden denies supporting PKK, which is terror-listed by the EU, but has had contacts with Kurdish fighters in Syria who played a key role in the fight against Islamic State group militants.

Turkey makes no distinction between the Kurdish groups.

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