As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan takes a tougher stance against Finland and Sweden’s claims to NATO membership, despite much less harsh statements by some of his top aides, U.S. officials are trying to determine how serious a leader who is often fever, and what it may take to make him retreat.

Amid conflicting signals from Ankara regarding the expected applications, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will meet with his Turkish counterpart in New York on Wednesday to clarify Ankara’s position after previous attempts seem to have only clouded the situation.

Stressing the sensitivity of the subtle diplomacy needed to fight a potentially rebellious ally, the Biden administration seems to have ignored Erdogan, who said he could not allow the two countries to join NATO because of their alleged support for groups seen by Turkey as a security threat. Instead, the administration is focusing on remarks made behind closed-door meetings by lower-ranking officials.

“We should not speak on behalf of the Turkish government,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday, answering numerous questions about how the United States understands Turkey’s position and whether Turkey has demanded anything from the United States in return. agreeing to the friendship of Finland and Sweden.

At stake is the opportunity for the United States and its NATO partners to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by strengthening and expanding the alliance, the exact opposite of what President Vladimir Putin hoped to achieve by starting the war.

But Erdogan’s views that he could shatter Sweden’s and Finland’s hopes for membership also underscore the potential weakness Putin has tried to exploit in the past – the cumbersome nature of a consensus-driven alliance where one member can block actions supported by others. 29.

Originally seen in Washington and other NATO capitals as an easily decisive slight diversion from the Alliance’s enlargement process following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Erdogan’s verbal volleys toward Finland and Sweden are more worrying as the two northern countries submit official bids as soon as possible.

Even if they are overcome, objections from Turkey, one of 30 NATO members who have expressed reservations about enlargement, could delay Finland and Sweden’s accession to the alliance for several months, especially if other countries follow suit in search of concessions. their votes.

Erdogan, who has become increasingly authoritarian over the years, is known as an unpredictable leader, and there have been cases where his words have diverged from those of Turkish diplomats or other high-ranking officials in his government.

“I do not rule out a possible rift between Turkish diplomats and Erdogan. There have been examples of such a gap in the past, ”said Barchin Inan, a journalist and columnist for Turkey’s foreign policy. She said there was a “rift” between Erdogan and the foreign ministry last year when the Turkish leader threatened to expel 10 Western diplomats, including the US ambassador, whom he accused of interfering in Turkey’s judiciary.

For example, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Berlin on Sunday after discussions with Turkish officials that “Turkey has made it clear that it does not intend to block membership.” Meanwhile, Blinken and other foreign ministers, including Germany’s chief diplomat Annalena Burbock, expressed full confidence that all NATO members, including Turkey, would welcome the two newcomers.

However, Erdogan surprised many on Monday by doubling his criticism of Finland and Sweden, accusing them of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers terrorists, and imposing restrictions on Turkey’s military sales.

“None of the countries has an open, clear position against terrorist organizations,” Erdogan said. “We cannot say ‘yes’ to those who impose sanctions on Turkey for joining NATO, which is a security organization.”

Asked about the disparity, Price, a State Department spokesman, would only say that after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavuaglu and others over the weekend, Blinken “came out with the same confidence that there is a strong consensus for recognizing Finland and Sweden will join the alliance if they want to join, and we are confident that we will be able to maintain this consensus. “

Gonul Tol, program director for Turkey at the Middle East Institute, said that although Erdogan often speaks harshly, he is, after all, eager to come and do “rational things.”

“Erdogan is unpredictable. But at the same time he is a very pragmatic actor, ”she said. Tol said Erdogan likes to negotiate and insists on “maximalist demands” during the talks. “Eventually he agrees to much less,” she said.

She noted that Erdogan’s grievances against Western countries over the Kurds are not new and that tensions between Turkey and the United States over military supplies are long-standing.

After Turkey was excluded from the program to develop advanced F-35 fighters after the purchase of the Russian air defense system, Turkey insists that the US sell it new F-16 fighters or at least upgrade the existing fleet. Discussions are under way in Washington this week, and some officials believe that while they have nothing to do with NATO enlargement, the two resolutions could help persuade Erdogan to drop his objections.

Tol agreed and said: “This is happening at a time when he is trying to build relations with Washington, when Turkey is in talks to persuade Congress to sell Turkey the F-16. This is a time when Erdogan is trying to improve his image as a valuable ally. And this is the time when the invasion of Ukraine gave him the opportunity to reach out to Western capitals. So, against this background, it would be a very dramatic step if Turkey actually vetoed the application of Finland and Sweden. “

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