Skip to content

Senators: US to take a back seat in Nato talks between Finland, Sweden and Turkey

The State Department's top diplomat for Europe said there is "deep support across Nato" for Finnish and Swedish membership.

Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) warned that Ankara might try to force the US to make concessions if it entered the talks. Image: Al Drago / EPA

The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing Wednesday on the proposed Nato accession of Finland and Sweden.

It appeared that the US will remain in the background and act as a mediator in the negotiations – at least for the time being, according to Yle US correspondent Iida Tikka.

Right from the start, Republican Senator James Risch's opening statement made it clear what role the United States preferred in the talks.

Risch said that he believed it was best to leave the negotiations between Finland, Sweden and Turkey, and for the US to take a backseat. However he added that the two Nordic countries' Nato memberships must be ratified, as the issue was of vital importance.

During the hearing, frustration with Turkey was also evident. Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen made this clear in his remarks, when he stressed that while he hoped for constructive talks with Turkey, he believed the situation was skewed.

Van Hollen said he wanted to support the ongoing talks, yet recognised that the positions of Finland and Sweden were largely in line with the US, when it came to the Syrian Democratic Forces’ Kurdish forces or the fight against Isis and terrorism.

After Hollen, Democratic Senator and Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez said he was concerned that Turkey might try to gain something from the US if it participated in the negotiations.

After the hearing, Democratic Senator Chris Coons told Yle that it was difficult to see what more Turkey could ask of Sweden and Finland. In any case, Coons thought US involvement was a bad idea, adding that Turkey's actions risked significantly undermining US-Turkish relations.

"Deep support across Nato" for Finnish membership

Speaking at the hearing on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried said Washington understood that the talks between the parties earlier this week had been constructive.

"We are confident that this will be resolved in a positive way. There is broad and deep support across the Nato alliance for Finnish and Swedish accession," she said.

Asked if she believed all parties will be on the same page by the Madrid summit next week, Donfried said: "I will say that we're certainly pushing for that."

As the hearing progressed, Russia was often mentioned, but the country’s potential reaction to Nato expansion was barely discussed.

The Committee on Foreign Relations has been clear in its support for Finland and Sweden’s Nato membership, voting unanimously in favour of speeding up their accession process in early June.

The hearing on Wednesday was also devoid of dissenting voices.