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NATO Chief Visits Turkey to Discuss Key Issues

Jens Stoltenberg (left) and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (right) during a meeting between NATO and Turkey
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg traveled to Turkey on Thursday to discuss earthquake relief efforts and the NATO membership for Finland and Sweden. Credit: Jens Stoltenberg / Twitter

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited Turkey on Thursday to discuss several pertinent issues with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. Stoltenberg addressed reporters alongside Çavuşoğlu in a joint news conference in Ankara.

Two issues were at the top of the agenda: humanitarian aid for earthquake-stricken Turkey and the joint applications to join NATO by Finland and Sweden.

Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO members who have not yet ratified the entry of Finland and Sweden to the alliance. In order for either country to join, all existing NATO members must officially approve of the ascension.

Finland and Sweden’s NATO bid

During his discussions with senior Turkish officials, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called on Turkey to grant its approval to the membership applications of Finland and Sweden.

“I continue to believe that the time is now to ratify both Finland and Sweden,” Stoltenberg said during the press conference in Ankara.

Thus far, Turkey has refrained from approving the ascension of either country. Ankara has cited concerns that Finland and Sweden have been harboring terrorists hostile to the Turkish state as reasons why their membership should not be immediately approved.

In particular, Turkish officials have accused both countries of becoming a safe haven for Kurdish separatists or supporters of Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government consider to be terrorists. President Erdoğan largely blames Gulen and his supporters for the attempted coup attempt in 2016.

The issue has been complicated further by deteriorating relations between Turkey and Sweden. This was caused by protests which took place in Sweden that the Turkish government deemed offensive; the first of which involved Kurdish protestors hanging an effigy of Erdoğan and the second involving the burning of a Quran during a protest in Stockholm.

NATO chief promises humanitarian aid for Turkey

The other major issue discussed at the press conference was NATO’s disaster relief efforts in Turkey in the aftermath of the two massive earthquakes which have devastated much of the southeastern portion of the country.

Stoltenberg said that NATO would be dispatching “tens of thousands of tents” to Turkey to provide temporary shelter for people whose homes were destroyed during the earthquakes. the NATO chief also said that the alliance would use its “strategic airlift capabilities” to ensure humanitarian supplies reach the country as quickly as possible.

“In your time of need, NATO stands with Turkey,” Stoltenberg stressed during the press conference. “This is the deadliest natural disaster on alliance territory since NATO was founded.”

The devastation of the earthquake has been spread across 11 provinces in Turkey, causing the estimated destruction of more than 50,000 buildings, leaving thousands of people without shelter in winter conditions.

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