Finland, Turkey to hold talks as NATO ministers gather


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By Sabine Siebold and John Irish

BERLIN - Top diplomats from Finland and Turkey meet in Berlin on Saturday to try to solve disagreements over Finnish and Swedish plans to join NATO, Finland's foreign minister said as the 30-strong alliance meets against the backdrop of the Ukraine conflict.

Sweden and Finland are gearing up to apply for membership of the transatlantic military alliance in response to what they see as a fundamentally altered security situation due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. That has drawn threats of retaliation from Moscow and objections from NATO member Turkey.

"I am sure we will find a solution," Pekka Haavesto told reporters as he arrived in the German capital, adding he had spoken to his "good colleague" Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkish foreign minister, by phone on Friday.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has promised both Nordic countries a warm welcome and a swift accession procedure, but NATO member Turkey on Friday unexpectedly threw a spanner in the works.

President Tayyip Erdogan said he could not support the Nordic countries' plans given that they were "home to many terrorist organisations".

However, his spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, also the president's top foreign policy advisor, appeared to soften Ankara's position, telling that Turkey had not shut the door, but wanted negotiations and a clampdown on what it sees as terrorist activities especially in Stockholm.

Asked about Turkey, Norway's Foreign Minister Anniken Scharning Huitfeldt said: "We don't know what Turkey means, but from (the) Norwegian perspective, we are 100% behind Finland and Sweden if they decide to apply for membership in NATO."

Allies will also explore security guarantees for Finland and Sweden for the duration of a ratification period that could take as long as a year, during which the Nordic countries are not yet protected by NATO's article 5 which guarantees that an attack on one ally is an attack on all.

They will also assess the military situation on the ground and their aid to the Ukraine military, and will discuss a first draft of NATO's new strategic concept, its basic military doctrine, which is set to be agreed at a leaders summit in Madrid at the end of June.

Finland and Sweden are already NATO's closest partners, sitting in on many meetings, getting regularly briefed on the situation in Ukraine and taking part in regular military drills with NATO allies. Much of their military equipment is inter-operable with NATO allies.

Moscow describes its actions as a "special military operation" to disarm Ukraine and rid it of anti-Russian nationalism fomented by the West. Ukraine and its allies say Russia launched an unprovoked war.

(Additional reporting by Riham Alkoussa, Maria Sheahan and Alexander Ratz; Editing by Riham Alkousaa and David Holmes)

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