Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, speaks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as they meet at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Feb. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, Pool)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday called for Sweden and Finland to be accepted into NATO “as soon as possible,” though his Turkish counterpart ruled out any link between their membership and Turkey’s F-16 request. fighter.

Turkey has delayed the Nordic countries’ entry into the transatlantic defense alliance, citing concerns over terrorism. Meanwhile, members of the US Congress have linked approval of the F-16 jet deal to Ankara’s pushback over its opposition to NATO expansion.

“We are confident that NATO will officially welcome them soon,” Blinken said at a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara. “And when that happens, the security of all NATO members will improve, including the United States and Turkey.”

Cavusoglu repeated the official position that Turkey will approve Finland’s NATO membership before Sweden. Ankara argues that Stockholm tolerates the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has waged a 39-year insurgency against Ankara.

“Unfortunately, PKK supporters are still present in Sweden,” he said. “They recruit people, they finance terrorist acts and they make terrorist propaganda in Sweden…because they don’t want Sweden to become a member of NATO.”

While acknowledging that Sweden had made constitutional changes to try to accommodate Turkey’s demands, he noted that more needed to be done to “convince our Parliament and our people”.

Ankara is also angry that Sweden allowed protests against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and failed to stop an anti-Islam activist from burning the Quran, the Muslim holy book, during a protest.

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