Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s objection to NATO’s acceptance of Sweden and Finland as full allies has raised the geopolitical stakes of simmering disputes between Turkey and NATO’s U.S. and European members at a moment of growing Western dependence on Turkish security assistance.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met in New York for their first meeting of the U.S.-Turkey Strategic Security Mechanism. That process began last month against the backdrop of their joint opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine after years of tension stemming from Syria's civil war and Erdogan’s transactional relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the unexpected split over NATO expansion has cast a shadow on the fence-mending effort.

“Today we had Finland and Sweden submit their applications, and this of course is a process, and we will work through that process as Allies and as partners,” Blinken said. “We have a lot on our common agenda, including, of course, Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine. The United States, Turkey, all of our allies have been resolute in support of Ukraine, and we want to see this Russian aggression come to an end. I’m grateful for the solidarity that we’ve shown, that Turkey has shown in that effort.”

Recent necessity has obscured some of the controversies that rocked U.S.-Turkey ties in recent years, most notably the Pentagon's expulsion of Turkey from the F-35 stealth fighter program in response to Erdogan's purchase of advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile systems. The extension of that solidarity with respect to Sweden and Finland could come at a price, as Turkish officials acknowledge that the Nordic states’ need for Erdogan’s acquiescence to their admission into the alliance has presented a unique opportunity.


“Yes, we see the threat in our region, and that’s the reason we see that Finland and Sweden want to be NATO [members], new [members],” Cavusoglu said. “So what I am trying to say [is] we understand their security concerns, but Turkey’s security concerns should be also met.”

Turkish officials have accused the Nordic states of supporting terrorists on the grounds that both countries have refused to deport Turkish nationals that Ankara has accused of loyalty to the PKK, an ethnic Kurdish militant group, and FETO, an organization led by an erstwhile Erdogan ally whom the Turkish president has blamed for a coup attempt in 2016. Cavusoglu also protested the “export restrictions on defense products” imposed by Sweden and Finland after Turkey’s attack on the Syrian Kurdish militias that partnered with the United States and other allies to dismantle the territorial holdings of the Islamic State group.

“It would be unthinkable for NATO, which has faced criticism for two decades for its failure to promote cooperation and coordination between its members in the war on terror, to consider acceding to any nation that has not made a clear decision on terrorist organizations,” Erdogan spokesman Fahrettin Altun said Wednesday.

Those Turkish complaints about Sweden and Finland might well function as a proxy dispute with the U.S., as Washington has been aligned with the Nordic states on the policy issues that Erdogan has raised. The 82-year-old cleric regarded as the leader of FETO, Fethullah Gulen, has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999. (The U.S. government during both the Trump and Biden administrations has refused to extradite him to Turkey for lack of evidence.) Similarly, U.S. officials denounced Turkey’s incursion into Syria as an attack on the partner forces that bore the brunt of the fighting against ISIS.

“Finland and Sweden are longtime, stalwart partners of the United States,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. “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.”

Cavusoglu did not come to New York empty-handed, as he paired Turkey’s complaints with a show of support for a U.S.-led initiative to press Russia to allow the export of Ukraine’s vast stores of grain before a worsening food crisis turns into a deadly shortage.

“Russia's aggression poses a significant challenge, as both countries are major global food suppliers, and decreasing their ability to produce and export will directly impact global food security,” he said during a U.N. meeting on food security. “We need international collaboration to ensure that this war doesn't worsen the hunger crisis.”


Blinken put a premium on that assistance in their bilateral meeting. “So we’re going to spend some time both together and then with our colleagues talking about the steps that we can take in the near term to help alleviate food insecurity as well as some of the more medium-term and longer-term steps to build a stronger system,” he said.