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Turkey is keeping Finland and Sweden from joining NATO

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Finland and Sweden are still waiting to join NATO. The U.S. was hoping that they would be in by now to show a united front against Russia's war in Ukraine, but Turkey has been holding up their membership and trying to get concessions, including a tougher line against Kurdish militants. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the war in Ukraine has been a strategic failure for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We know that he's failed at weakening our alliance. Indeed, he's only made NATO stronger and bigger.

KELEMEN: Well, soon to be bigger. Secretary Blinken hosted his counterparts from Finland and Sweden, saying those countries are ready to bring their strengths to the NATO alliance. Hungary's Parliament still needs to ratify their membership and plan to do that in February. Turkey is the major holdout and has yet to give NATO a clear timeline. Finland's foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, told NPR outside the State Department today that he's hoping Turkey won't put this off until after their elections next year.

PEKKA HAAVISTO: When we have a war in Europe, it's very crucial that things can be done quite rapidly and also that NATO's open door policy prevails, that it exists also in the time of the crisis, and particularly when there are two members, Finland and Sweden, that, in my understanding, fulfill very well the NATO criteria.

KELEMEN: They're also fulfilling Turkey's demands. Sweden recently extradited a Kurdish man who allegedly has links to the militant group the PKK. And Sweden's foreign minister, Tobias Billstrom, says his country has taken other steps laid out in a deal with Turkey.

TOBIAS BILLSTROM: We have done a lot. And we believe that we are very close to that point when we would be able to say that all the conditions are met and then the Turkish Parliament will be able to ratify our accession protocol, and we will become NATO members.

KELEMEN: He's planning to travel to Ankara soon. NATO's secretary-general was there recently, saying that Finland and Sweden have done their part. And he warned that it's important to finalize their membership to prevent any misunderstanding in Moscow.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.