Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is frustrating the United States and its allies by opposing Sweden and Finland’s bid to join NATO.
The position is complicating the message of unity that the Biden administration wants to send to Moscow on its invasion of Ukraine.
Sweden and Finland’s offers to join the military alliance are historic and a major defeat for Russia, which does not want them added to the group. The fact that his decision to do so is the result of the Russian war is a point that has been highlighted by US officials.
But the diplomatic victory over Moscow is marred by Erdogan’s opposition to accusations that the Nordic countries harbor Kurdish terror groups.
NATO members must unanimously agree to accept membership.
There are rumors that Ankara is looking for something, like US fighter jets, to give its blessing.
Erdoğan is due to speak with Finnish officials on Saturday and has kept the door open for change, telling reporters that “we will continue all these discussions so as not to interrupt diplomacy.”
Turkey is widely seen as a necessary but problematic partner.
For years, Erdoğan has rankled Washington over his pursuit of Russian weapons systems, military adventures in Syria, domestic political oppression, and violence against US federal security and US protesters in the capital.
However, the administration and lawmakers acknowledge that Turkey provides a key security stronghold for NATO in the Black Sea and has provided Ukraine with weapons that have proven decisive in the fight against Russian forces.
And while the US is frustrated that the Erdogan government has resisted joining sanctions against Russia, they accept that Ankara is a unique place to host any peace talks that may arise between kyiv and Moscow.
“Turkey is an important NATO partner. We have very important military installations in Turkey, we are interested in having a good relationship with Turkey,” Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the No. 2 Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Hill.
“They have been a good partner when it comes to Ukraine. So I want to make sure that we act as a responsible partner, making it clear that we do not want them to have a relationship with Russia, which could be contrary to our security needs within NATO.”
The administration has kept quiet about what it might offer Turkey to gain acceptance for Finland and Sweden.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One Thursday that the United States is prepared to provide support in any way, but described the disagreement as one between Turkey, Finland and Sweden. .
He and other officials have expressed confidence that the alliance will uniformly agree to allow the Nordic countries to become members.
Sullivan also said there were no plans for President Biden and Erdoğan to speak, but noted that Biden would be “happy to do so” if asked.
Biden hosted the leaders of Finland and Sweden at the White House on Thursday as a sign of strong US support for them joining the alliance. During an event in the Rose Garden, Finnish Prime Minister Sauli Niinistö appealed directly to Turkey.
“As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey’s security just as Turkey will commit to our security,” Niinistö said. “We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and are actively committed to combating it. We are open to discussing all concerns that Turkey may have regarding our membership in an open and constructive manner.”
Rose Gottemoeller, a former NATO deputy secretary-general, said she hopes the Finnish and Swedish applications will ultimately be successful, but predicted it will be “very difficult business” with Turkey.
“It’s a serious matter because this was always at the top of the list of issues when I was deputy general secretary,” Gottemoeller said. “They were constantly using this issue as leverage.”
Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, questioned whether Turkey could oppose Finnish and Swedish membership.
“If you’re a member of a group and you 29 want to do it and you don’t, it’s a chore,” he said. He also described the relationship between the United States and Turkey as having “ups and downs.”
Not all legislators are so diplomatic. Senator Robert Menéndez (DN.J.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, warned against giving in to Turkey’s behavior.
“Overall, I don’t think Turkey should be rewarded. Turkey has not agreed to put European or American sanctions on Russia, I mean the list is long, I don’t understand how we keep rewarding authoritarian figures,” she said.
Menendez warned that the administration should not consider Turkish requests to buy more F-16 fighter jets.
“I am not in favor of sending F-16s to Turkey. They are still in violation of CAATSA sanctions,” Mendendez said, referring to Turkey’s ownership of the Russian S400 missile defense system that violates federal law.
The State Department is proposing to sell upgrades and ammunition to Turkey for its existing F-16s, a strong sign of closer cooperation between Washington and Ankara.
Lawmakers don’t know if they will support the proposal.
“I think it’s important for us to keep Turkey a strong NATO ally,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told The Hill when asked if she supported the updates. of the F-16.
Some Democrats seek to provide strict oversight of any sales of military equipment to Ankara, particularly in response to Greece’s concerns that Turkey is carrying out provocative military flights over Greek islands.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned in a speech Tuesday before a joint session of Congress against arms sales to Turkey, without specifically naming Ankara.
“The last thing NATO needs, at a time when our goal is to help Ukraine defeat Russian aggression, is another source of instability on NATO’s southeastern flank,” Mitsotakis said.
“And I ask that you take this into account when making defense acquisition decisions in relation to the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told The Hill that Mitsotakis was “absolutely right” and that lawmakers can use the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 to address concerns about Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean. oriental, but did not go into details.
“There’s just no easy answer to that… [U.S. and Turkish military-to-military] the relationship is still pretty strong, but it’s at the diplomatic and senior elected officials level where things are really tough right now,” Kaine said.
“They’re being really troublesome right now.”