U.S. says Turkey's approach to Sweden, Finland NATO bid not a bilateral topic

·2 min read

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Turkey's approach to the NATO accession process of Sweden and Finland is not a bilateral issue between Washington and Ankara, the U.S. State Department said on Friday, but added that Washington was speaking with Ankara and it remained confident that the dispute would be overcome.

Finland and Sweden say they have been spurred into joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, reversing generations of military non-alignment to bring about the biggest shakeup in European security in decades.

Turkey surprised NATO allies last week by objecting to the move, pressing Sweden to halt support for Kurdish militants it considers part of a terrorist group. It pressed both Sweden and Finland to lift their bans on some arms sales to Turkey.

While the problem officially is between Sweden, Finland and Turkey, many analysts have said Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan may be aiming to use this moment to push Washington to act on some of the long-standing issues that have weighed on bilateral ties between the two NATO allies.

Those issues include ending U.S. support for the Kurdish militia in Syria that Ankara sees as terrorists, lifting of the U.S. sanctions imposed after Ankara's purchase of the S-400 Russian defense system as well as potentially expediting Ankara's request to buy F-16s.

"The question of Turkey's approach to the NATO accession of Finland and Sweden, that is not a bilateral question between the United States and Turkey," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a telephone briefing.

His comments are similar to those by U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who on Thursday told reporters, "this is not a U.S. issue," but added that Washington wanted to see it resolved and it was ready to take action to be supportive.

Western leaders have expressed confidence that Ankara's objections will not be a road block for the NATO accession process of the Nordic countries without spelling out how Turkey's position could be changed.

"For their parts, Finland, Sweden are working directly with Turkey, but we're also talking to Turkey about this issue," Price said, but did not give further details about the talks aside from saying Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu had held a "good, constructive" conversation on Wednesday in New York.

"We remain confident that Turkey's concerns will be addressed, and that we'll be able to reach consensus as an alliance on the accession process for Finland and Sweden," Price added.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)