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Turkey has dropped its objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A proverbial cloud had been hanging over a pivotal NATO summit this week in Madrid, and at the last moment, it lifted. Turkey has dropped its objections to Finland and Sweden joining the alliance. This comes as NATO plans to announce major troop deployments to Eastern Europe to deter Russia. NPR's Frank Langfitt is in Madrid. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about the significance of this deal.

LANGFITT: Yeah, a lot of it's the timing. You know, this is the biggest NATO summit in at least a couple of decades, and there's big political symbolism. I mean, this is basically a rebuke to President Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. You know, he said one of the reasons he invaded Ukraine, Ari, of course, was to stop it from joining NATO. And at a news conference this evening, the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, had this to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENS STOLTENBERG: One of the most important messages from President Putin there was that he was against any further NATO enlargement. He wanted less NATO. Now President Putin is getting more NATO on these borders. So what he gets is the opposite of what he actually demanded.

SHAPIRO: Frank, why did Turkey object to the expansion, and why did Turkey change its mind?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Turkey said it had nothing to do with NATO. It had been complaining for some time about - basically from its perspective - Sweden and Finland weren't doing enough to combat people that Turkey views as terrorists. Now, this relates to supporters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the EU. And it's been very active in southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq and Syria.

Now, in their memorandum today, the Nordic countries agreed to prevent activities by the party, which is also known as the PKK, and entered into an extradition agreement with Turkey to turn over potential suspects that it says has links to the - that Turkey thinks has links to the PKK and who they say have been finding refuge in Sweden and Finland. And Stoltenberg was very interesting. He went out of his way to acknowledge Turkey's concerns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STOLTENBERG: No ally has suffered more brutal terrorist attacks than Turkey, including from the terrorist group PKK.

SHAPIRO: And that was all that was required for Turkey to drop its objections?

LANGFITT: Well, officially, Ari, yes. But there were a lot of - just a lot of smiles in the press conference today - people kind of looking around because people think there's something else going on here. Many people have thought that Turkey was really holding this up - Sweden and Finland - in hopes of getting the U.S. to agree to sell it fighter jets, which Turkey has wanted for a long time. Now, President Biden did talk to Turkey's President Erdogan today, but senior administration officials said that the U.S. made no direct offer to get Turkey on board. Biden is expected to meet Erdogan tomorrow here at the summit.

SHAPIRO: This deal gives the impression of a unified, growing NATO alliance. Is that image entirely accurate?

LANGFITT: No, it's a lot more complicated. Remember, this is 30 allies. It's hard for them always to agree. And each, you know, each country in Europe has a slightly different point of view. There are disagreements, and have been for a number of months, over the types of weapons NATO should be sending to Ukraine, concerns - some allies think that, you know, if you send them very heavy weapons, long-range missiles, it could escalate and widen the war. Another question is whether to back Ukraine indefinitely or push for a negotiated settlement in which Ukraine gives up land to Russia, which, of course, Ukraine absolutely does not want. And this is one reason I think, Ari, that a deal like this coming right now is very helpful to the alliance because it does present this image of strength and unity.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Frank Langfitt covering the NATO summit in Madrid. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Hey, great to talk, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.