Nato chief says he had ‘no reason to believe’ Turkey would block Nordic membership

Nato’s secretary-general insisted he had “no reason to believe” Turkey would block Finland and Sweden’s bids to join the military alliance when he promised the Nordic countries a quick accession process in April.

Jens Stoltenberg told the Financial Times that it was still possible to overcome Ankara’s “legitimate” concerns over terrorism and arms sales “within a reasonable time”.

The former Norwegian prime minister added: “Earlier in the process, we had no reasons to believe there would be any problems. The Turkish concerns are not new. Türkiye is an important ally, and when an ally raises security concerns, we have to address them.”

Nato officials promised Finland and Sweden that the first stage of their Nato bid would only take one or two weeks, before Turkey raised objections over terrorism and support for the Kurds just as the two Nordic nations applied last month after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly hit out at Sweden and Finland, calling them “guesthouses” for terrorists and demanding that their Nato applications be blocked.

Finnish and Swedish ministers have spoken about toughening their anti-terrorism laws and potentially easing the criteria for Turkish arms sales once they are Nato members. But officials from both countries have also complained that it is hard to pin the Turks down in terms of their actual demands.

Asked if his own credibility was on the line after he told Finland and Sweden their ratification would be quick, Stoltenberg repeated that he had “no reason to believe at that time” there would be any problems.

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö has also said that in an April conversation with Erdoğan the Turkish president assured him any Nato bid would be viewed favourably.

Stoltenberg said on Monday: “My goal is to have Finland and Sweden as members as soon as possible. It can still be quick compared with other accession processes.”

He said there was no deadline to resolve the issue by Nato’s summit in Madrid at the end of June, which many had seen as a moment for the defence alliance to formally welcome its new applicants.

Turkey’s concerns seem less directed at Finland than Sweden, which has a significant Kurdish population and whose government has twice survived only thanks to a deal with a Swedish-Kurdish MP that includes support for a group that Erdoğan calls terrorists.

“The Turkish concerns on terrorism are legitimate. Because no Nato ally has suffered more terrorist attacks than Türkiye . . . We will sit down with Türkiye and find a common way forward,” Stoltenberg said, using the name for the country favoured by Erdoğan.

He also praised Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister whom he will visit later on Monday, for “Swedish readiness to address Türkiye’s concerns” by amending anti-terror laws and suggesting arms sales to Ankara could be made easier.

Niinistö appeared to indicate on Sunday that Finland would not abandon Sweden should its neighbour run into difficulties with its Nato bid, stressing that “Sweden’s cause is ours”.

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