• The San Juan Daily Star

Representatives from Finland and Sweden meet with Turkish officials to discuss NATO

Secretary of State John Kerry, center, with Milica Pejanovic, Montenegro’s defense minister, left, at a session in Brussels welcoming Montenegro into NATO this month.

By Eduardo Medina, Safak Timur, Johanna Lemola, Christina Anderson and Monika Pronczuk

Finland and Sweden failed to break the deadlock over Turkey’s objections to their bids to join NATO in a meeting Monday with Turkish officials in Brussels, but all sides vowed to keep negotiating about what would be the alliance’s most ambitious expansion in decades.

Spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the two Nordic countries last month applied to join NATO, but that move would require unanimous agreement by all 30 member nations. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has threatened to block it, citing Swedish and Finnish support for Kurdish militants whom Turkey sees as terrorists.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg invited senior representatives from the three countries to Brussels on Monday in an attempt to overcome the impasse. They met for more than five hours, focused on security concerns raised by Turkey, NATO officials said.

Petri Hakkarainen, the Finnish representative to the talks, said that although there was clear progress on certain matters, “there is still more to be done” in order to “reach mutual understanding.”

But Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan‘s spokesperson, told reporters in Brussels after the meeting that further progress now depended “on the direction and speed at which these countries will take steps” regarding Ankara’s demands.

Stoltenberg said the meeting was “constructive” and called Ankara’s objections “legitimate security concerns over terrorism that we need to address,” adding that the talks will continue in the coming days. He said over the weekend that the alliance took seriously the concerns of the Turkish government, but he did not offer details on a possible resolution.

Leaders of NATO countries are set to meet for a high-level summit next week in Madrid.

Turkish resistance to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance has slowed a process that other members have been keen to fast-track, as the West seeks to demonstrate unity in the face of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

But Turkey’s deputy foreign minister, Sedat Onal, told reporters in Brussels, “We do not consider ourselves bound with a deadline.”

The discussions Monday come as Russia continues to pummel eastern Ukraine with strikes, resulting in mounting losses of life on both sides in a war that Western leaders have warned could last years.

Foreign Minister Ann Linde of Sweden urged patience, telling Swedish news agency TT in comments published Monday, “I hope that the negotiations will go well, but we are also prepared that this is a process that can take a long time.”

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