Turkey has dropped its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO after weeks of diplomatic tension and wrangling.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has managed to score a face-to-face meeting on Wednesday with U.S. President Joe Biden at a summit of NATO’s leaders in Madrid, Spain.
Analysts at the Atlantic Council dissect the deal that allowed the two Nordic countries to join the alliance and what Turkey got in return. As well as the Biden meeting, Erdoğan spurred Sweden and Finland to address his concerns about Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in Turkey and an affiliate group in Syria, scoring points for Turkey’s security concerns internationally and for domestic politics, the analysts said late on Tuesday.
Erdoğan’s one-on-one with Biden is “a major concession” in light of the administration’s stance on not engaging with autocrats, said Chris Skaluba, a former principle director at the U.S. Defense Department and director of the Scowcroft Center’s Transatlantic Security Initiative. “It seems the White House is prioritising practical process over pure principle,” he said, also referring to Biden’s upcoming meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Turkey has also managed to move its terror concerns up NATO’s agenda, said Rich Outzen, non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council in Turkey and a former U.S. State Department official. “It validates Erdoğan’s insistence over the past two months, deflating the narrative that implied the PKK concerns were overblown.”
It was a masterful play by Erdoğan, who “deftly seized this moment of maximum leverage to get the most possible for his Turkish security interests and domestic politics,” said Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council.
Outzen said the agreement gives Turkey broad cooperation on defence industry deals, “not just lifting the Swedes’ arms embargo (against Turkey), but the two Nordic countries committing to pull Turkey into EU common security initiatives” such as the PESCO military-transport project.
Turkey’s objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO were not based on the central motive of winning new F-16 fighter jets from the United States — a premise some analysts had alluded to — rather Erdoğan’s security concerns about the PKK were “sincerely felt, long-held and central to Turkish statecraft,” Outzen said.
Defne Arslan, senior director of the Atlantic Council in Turkey, said all eyes were now on the Biden-Erdoğan meeting to see if the United States follows Finland and Sweden in taking measures to squeeze Kurdish militants that it supports in Syria.