Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday his country would consider evaluating Finland's NATO membership bid separately from Sweden’s. Until now, Turkey threatened to veto both countries' bids after the burning of a Quran in Stockholm sparked outrage in Ankara.
The Turkish foreign minister told reporters in Ankara that Turkey is ready to assess Finland and Sweden's NATO membership individually.
Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey can evaluate the Finnish and Swedish NATO applications separately.
Cavusoglu added that such an approach made sense, given one country's application was more problematic than the other. The Turkish foreign minister's comments echo President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's statement on Sunday, suggesting Finland would face little difficulty joining.
Erdogan also repeated his demand that Stockholm extradite 120 people whom Turkey considers terrorists.
Erdogan accuses the Swedish government of allowing its country to become a sanctuary for terrorists' organizations that are fighting Turkey. Swedish officials insist the extradition demands are a matter for the courts.
Turkish-Swedish relations deteriorated further in January after far-right protesters were allowed to burn a Quran in Stockholm, causing outrage in Ankara. But Finnish-Turkish relations got a boost this month, with Helsinki allowing the sale of specialized steel to Turkey's defense industry, ending Finland's military embargo on Ankara over human rights concerns.
Ilhan Uzgel, a political analyst at the Kisa Dalga news portal, says Erdogan is seeking to maximize the concessions from NATO to allow its enlargement, given the upcoming presidential elections expected to be held in May.
“It's not like a strategic decision, but it's more like leverage that Erdogan needs in domestic politics. But this can be solvable. Under pressure, Erdogan makes concessions, that's for sure. But he has to get something. He has learned this over the years that anything can be turned into a bargaining chip. An issue of transnationalism that he is very good at it. So, he knows how to make bargains. I mean, he has learned it in 20 years [in power],” said Uzgel.
Until now, Finland and Sweden have been committed to joining NATO together. But earlier this month, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Helsinki could review that stance if Sweden became permanently blocked from the military alliance.
Asli Aydintasbas of the Brookings Institution says Washington’s role may be critical to ending the impasse.
“The U.S. holds important cards. The question has been whether some of its policy goals can be achieved by actually keeping the relationship relatively frozen until the Turkish elections and then considering a reset. What we are seeing is that Turkey is frustrated, feeling it is not getting enough attention from Washington,” said Aydintasbas.
Ankara has numerous demands from Washington and ongoing disputes. Still, analysts suggest with only a few months until elections, which opinion polls indicate Erdogan is far from assured of winning, Sweden and Finland, along with NATO, will likely be closely following the forthcoming elections.