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Turkey blocks NATO talks on Finland, Sweden applications

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Turkey blocks NATO talks on Finland, Sweden applications
Swedish Ambassador to NATO Axel Wernhoff (L) and Finnish Ambassador to NATO Klaus Korhonen carrying their respective country's application for NATO membership into the military alliances headquarters on Wednesday. Turkey immediately blocked a NATO procedural vote to start the accession process for the nordic nations while President Joe Biden reiterated his support for admitting them into the alliance. Photo courtesy Sweden Mission to NATO/Twitter

May 18 (UPI) -- Turkey on Wednesday immediately blocked the beginning of NATO accession talks for Finland and Sweden right after they submitted their applications to join the alliance.

During a meeting of NATO ambassadors Turkey said there were issues to work through regarding the two nations joining NATO. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has objected to Sweden giving asylum to some members of the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, an organization Turkey considers "terrorist."

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The United States also designated the PPK as a terrorist organization in 1997.

Turkey blocked a procedural vote on NATO moving fast to accept the applications of Finland and Sweden. Turkey claims Sweden has refused to extradite 30 PPK members back to Turkey.

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President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday, "I warmly welcome and strongly support the historic applications from Finland and Sweden for membership in NATO and look forward to working with the U.S. Congress and our NATO allies to quickly bring Finland and Sweden into the strongest defensive alliance in history."

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Biden said in the statement "While their applications for NATO membership are being considered, the United States will work with Finland and Sweden to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression."

Biden has invited Finland President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister of Sweden Magdalena Andersson to visit the White House Thursday "so that we can further consult on their NATO applications and European security."

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Finland and Sweden formally submitted applications to join the NATO military alliance early Wednesday, ending the Nordic nations' decades of military neutrality in the wake of Russia's war in Ukraine.

Ambassadors Klaus Korhonen of Finland and Axel Wernoff of Sweden handed their applications to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels during a brief press conference, officially initiating the membership process that could take several months to complete.

"This is a good day at a critical moment in our security," Stoltenberg said. "And I warmly welcome the requests from Finland and Sweden to join NATO."

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NATO's 30 member states will now consider the applications in regards to their own security interests, with Stoltenberg projecting confidence during the press conference that they would work through any issues quickly.

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"All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement. We all agree we must stand together and we all agree that this is a historic moment, which we must seize," he said.

Both countries have historically maintained a stance of military neutrality while maintaining relationships with the NATO alliance. Their rapid move toward joining the defensive pact began Feb. 24 when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, bringing war to Europe.

Russia has blamed NATO expansion, especially with regard to Ukraine, as reason for its bloody incursion and has volleyed threats at Finland and Sweden over their potential membership, Moscow sees the countries joining the alliance as a security threat.

Finland's membership would not only increase the number of NATO nations bordering Russia, but also would drastically increase the length of Moscow's shared border with the military alliance. Finland and Russia share a border that's more than 800 miles long.

Stoltenberg said that several ally nations have committed to the security of Finland and Sweden.

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Baltic NATO member states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were quick to voice support for including Sweden and Finland in the alliance, saying their accession "will enhance our collective security and strengthen the alliance."

"The Baltic States together with Finland and Sweden share the responsibility for peaceful, secure and prosperous Nordic Baltic region," Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krisjanis Karins and Lithuania Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said in a joint statement after the applications were made.

"The accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO will help to achieve these goals and open new opportunities for our countries for closer and stronger cooperation in the fields of security and defense."

The two countries formally submitted their applications a day after Finland's parliament overwhelmingly voted to join NATO and Sweden signed its formal request for membership.

"Finland has a special position for Sweden," Andersson said in a statement on Facebook. "When we now apply for NATO membership, we do it together with Finland."

In a speech before Sweden's parliament Tuesday, Niinisto said he was sure that a solution will be found through constructive discussion.

"Now that we have made our decision, the power will be handed over to NATO and its current member countries. We hope that all member states will give their support," he said.

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"We expect to sign the accession protocols soon, after which we hope for swift ratification by national parliaments of the member states."

Ukrainians return to towns around Kharkiv after Russian retreat

A local woman walks down a dirt road on Monday as life tries to return to normal after Russian shelling hit the small town of Biskvitne, Ukraine, east of Kharkiv. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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