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Finnish foreign minister optimistic that ‘sooner or later’ Finland and Sweden will be NATO members

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto expressed optimism that “sooner or later, Finland and Sweden will be members of NATO” and said discussions with the Turkish government would continue as Ankara threatens to block the two nations from joining the defensive alliance.

In an interview with CNN in Washington, DC, Friday, Haavisto said he expected that the topic of Finland’s NATO membership and overcoming Turkey’s current opposition would come up in his conversations with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his meeting later in the day, adding he was “quite confident” that other NATO countries had spoken with Turkey as well.

At a press conference following the meeting between the top US and Finnish diplomats, Blinken said the US is engaged directly with Turkey “but the focus is on the work that Finland, Sweden and Turkey are doing together to address the concerns.”

“I’m not going to get into the specifics, but there’s an ongoing, very active conversation between Finland, Sweden, and Turkey that we’ll support in any way that we can. I suspect that NATO will do will do so as well,” the top US diplomat said.

Delegations from Finland and Sweden — which both formally applied for NATO membership last week — traveled to Turkey earlier this week for talks on NATO accession. All current NATO members must approve new members.

Haavisto, who did not attend the talks, called it a “good meeting,” and said it lasted for five hours. Haavisto indicated that there are European and Finnish laws and policies in place that guide Finland’s actions on Turkey’s main demands — the designation the PKK as a terrorist organization, lifting arms export controls, the extradition of Kurdish militants that Turkey sees as terrorists. However, Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said following the delegation’s visit that “if Turkey’s security concerns are not met with concrete steps, the process cannot progress.”

Haavisto said “there was an agreement to continue those discussions,” but a next round of talks has not yet been arranged.

“From our perspective, the time frame is essential, because we are, of course, looking forward to NATO Summit in Madrid,” which is at the end of June, “and we hope that during the NATO Summit, the new members would be welcomed, at least, and the NATO ‘Open Door Policy’ would be confirmed, but of course, this is up to each and every member state that they can also influence the process,” he said.

The decisions by Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO was a major shift prompted by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Although Moscow suggested it would take “retaliatory steps” in response, Haavisto told CNN they have not seen any incidents thus far, reiterating “we don’t expect anything but we are prepared for everything.” He said Finland is pleased made by the statements countries regarding security commitments in the current gray zone between their NATO application and accession.

‘Out of the question’ to ease sanctions on Russia to unblock Ukraine’s ports

Haavisto said he expected that the issues of energy and food security would also come up in his meeting with Blinken Friday.

“Our concern is also the blockade of the sea transport on the coast of the Black Sea, because this is linked to the grain transport and grain trade and so forth. And it’s not good if Ukraine is a landlocked country like it is now,” he told CNN.

The foreign minister said it was “out of the question” to ease Russian sanctions as a means to unblock the ports.

“I think the international community should really appeal to have a safe route of transport for the agricultural products out of Ukraine, because this is critical to the food safety and food prices globally,” he told CNN.

Haavisto said it was difficult to predict how the war in Ukraine, which is now in its fourth month, might end, but said that Finland and Europe are focused on “helping Ukraine as much as possible so that whenever some talks will occur, they will negotiate from the strongest possible position.”

“It’s very difficult to see when there will be business as usual between Russia and Europe,” he added, noting that Russia must be investigated for the human rights abuses and war crime it has committed in Ukraine.

Asked if there can be business as usual if Putin remains in power, Haavisto said it was “difficult to say.”

“There are those who say that without regime change, you cannot do anything, but also regime change is something that you cannot do from outside, it’s, of course, something that Russia and Russians can only do,” he said. Haavisto also noted “we have to be prepared also for more risky scenarios, that when people speak about the regime changes, you do not know if the regime changes for the better or for the worse,” such as a military takeover.

“And of course, it’s a country with nuclear weapons and chemical weapons and so forth,” he added, saying it was the first time since the Cuban Missile Crisis that the use of tactical nuclear weapons had been hinted.

He said in Finland that “creates a lot of concerns.”

“We have a strong traditional army and strong traditional military but with these type of threats, you cannot survive alone against that type of threat,” he said.

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