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Turkey OKs Sweden, Finland Bids to Join NATO

FILE - NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attend a trilateral meeting between Turkey, Finland and Sweden on the day of a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, June 28, 2022.

Turkey agreed to withdraw its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO on Tuesday, just hours before a NATO meeting in Madrid kicked off amid Europe's worst security crisis in decades, triggered by the war in Ukraine.

After weeks of diplomacy and hours of talks on Tuesday, Turkey signed an agreement with the Nordic pair, setting the stage for new NATO additions.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to block Sweden and Finland, insisting they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups that Turkey considers terrorists.

Turkey said it had “got what it wanted” including “full cooperation ... in the fight against” the rebel groups.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called the agreement “a historic decision,” and said leaders of the 30-nation alliance will issue a formal invitation to the two countries to join on Wednesday.

The decision has yet to be ratified by all individual nations, but Stoltenberg said he was “absolutely confident” Finland and Sweden would become members, which could happen within a matter of months.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said the agreement was “good for Finland and Sweden. And it’s good for NATO.”

“But there are 30 parliaments that need to approve this and you never know,” Andersson told the Associated Press.

Turkey hailed Tuesday’s agreement as a triumph, saying the Nordic nations had agreed to crack down on groups that Ankara deems national security threats, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its Syrian extension. It said they also agreed “not to impose embargo restrictions in the field of defense industry” on Turkey and to take “concrete steps on the extradition of terrorist criminals.”

Turkey has previously demanded that Finland and Sweden extradite wanted individuals and lift arms restrictions imposed after Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into northeast Syria.

In turn, Turkey agreed “to support at the 2022 Madrid Summit the invitation of Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO.”

Details of exactly what was agreed were unclear.

Amineh Kakabaveh, an independent Swedish lawmaker of Kurdish origin whose support the government depends on for a majority in Parliament, said it was “worrisome that Sweden isn’t revealing what promises it has given Erdogan.”

Asked if the Swedish public will see the agreement as a concession on issues like extraditions of Kurdish militants regarded by Ankara as terrorists, Andersson said “they will see that this is good for the security of Sweden.”

U.S. President Joe Biden congratulated the three nations on taking a “crucial step.”

Amid speculation about a U.S. role in ending the deadlock, a senior administration official said Washington did not offer any concessions to Turkey to coax it to accept a deal.

But the official said the U.S. played a crucial role in helping bring the two parties closer together, and Biden spoke with Erdogan Tuesday morning at the behest of Sweden and Finland to help encourage the talks.

The deal came at the start of a major summit, dominated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, that will shape the trajectory of the alliance for the next few years.