Finland Sees Istanbul Blast Blamed on Kurds Hindering NATO Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Last week’s terrorist attack in Istanbul will reinforce Turkey’s concerns over Kurdish terrorism, with consequences for the entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO, according to Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.

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The two Nordic countries’ applications to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were already facing resistance from Turkey on the grounds that they aren’t adequately cracking down on Kurdish groups.

The deadly Nov. 13 blast “proves even more that Turkey wants to raise these concerns about terrorism and this proves somehow that it’s a problem also inside the country,” Haavisto said Saturday in an interview. “It’s a momentum that Turkey is using and of course they have all the rights to raise this issue during the NATO process.”

Turkey carried out air strikes against US-backed Kurdish militant groups in Iraq and northern Syria starting late Saturday in retaliation for the bombing. It accuses the separatist Kurdish group PKK, based in Iraq, and its affiliate in Syria, PYD, of committing the attack, which killed six people and injured more than 80 in a popular pedestrian corridor in central Istanbul.

Turkey says the PYD is merely an extension of the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the European Union. The PKK has denied responsibility for the Istanbul blast, though Turkish authorities said several suspects captured in the aftermath admitted links to the militants.

Turkey’s Conditions

The air campaign comes as Turkey continues to insist on the full cooperation of Sweden and Finland in combating the PKK and Kurdish militants in Syria and in deporting “terrorists” before approving their bids to join NATO. Both countries have repeatedly condemned terrorism and said they don’t support the Kurdish groups.

Haavisto resisted grouping Finland and Sweden together in the Kurdish issue.

“Sweden has a much bigger Kurdish minority” originating “from Turkey and other countries of the region and in that sense it is politically more visible,” he said in Manama, Bahrain, on the sidelines of the IISS security conference.

Even so, the Finnish government has repeatedly said it wants to join together with Sweden and can, if it wants, delay final approval in its parliament to wait for its neighbor.

Turkey has objected to the two Nordic countries joining the US-led military alliance since they put in bids in May following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. An agreement hammered out at the NATO summit in June allowed the process to move forward, and 28 of 30 allies have since ratified their entry, with Turkey and Hungary as the remaining holdouts.

“Of course it’s up to member countries which have not ratified in what order they will ratify and what are the consequences of that,” Haavisto said. “We, of course, hope that both Turkey and Hungary would ratify both countries at the same time.”

--With assistance from Zainab Fattah.

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