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Could Turkey block Finland and Sweden NATO membership?


In late June, NATO invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance after one of its biggest members, Turkey, said it was dropping its objections to the move. NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul reports on what Turkey got from the agreement and what else the country is looking for now.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: A three-way summit in Madrid between Turkey, Sweden and Finland yielded an agreement that the Nordic countries would counter the PKK, a group designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants crackdowns against Syrian Kurdish militants, too, and against elements he says backed a failed coup against him and continue to find support in northern Europe. And then there's the question of extraditing suspected terrorists. Erdogan said Sweden and Finland promised to deliver 73 suspects to Turkey. He's heard through an interpreter.


PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Through interpreter) Well, here, what matters is what we understand from the talks. And Sweden, with this agreement and memorandum, has given its word and promise that those 73 terrorists will be extradited to us. We will see whether they will give or not.

KENYON: In the days since the summit, it's become clear Turkey still wants proof Sweden and Finland will live up to their promises. The summit's memorandum of understanding says the two countries will address Turkey's pending extradition requests without saying how many people might be extradited. Sinan Ulgen, director of Istanbul's Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, says there are at least two key points to consider. First of all, he says, it's not up to the governments in Stockholm and Helsinki. It falls to their judiciaries to decide on extradition requests.

SINAN ULGEN: Whether the Swedish and Finnish judiciary will actually approve all the extradition requests is very much uncertain, so down the road, we may reach another stumbling block.

KENYON: And if that turns out to be the case, how might Turkey respond? The threat from Erdogan has been that Ankara might not ratify this NATO expansion. But some wonder if Turkey would really make good on that threat. Analyst Soli Ozel at Istanbul's Kadir Has University says other NATO countries are likely to approve the ratification in short order. Canada has already done so. Will Turkey be the odd man out? Ozel doesn't think so, not least because he says Turkey is desperate to get new F-16 fighter jets from the United States. President Joe Biden has asked Congress to approve the sale, but Ozel says lawmakers might be reluctant to do so if Turkey doesn't approve ratification of Finland and Sweden's bid to join NATO.

SOLI OZEL: So my sense is there is a quid pro quo, F-16s for approval, and how it's going to play out, I don't know. We may see some tensions in the process, but ultimately, I really don't see this being blocked by the Turkish parliament.

KENYON: The Madrid summit also established a new mechanism for ongoing consultation between Turkey, Sweden and Finland with regard to the fight against terrorism. Analysts say with Erdogan facing elections next year, this issue of combating the groups he sees as terrorists will remain a priority but one he will pursue without risking his ties to the West. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.


Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.