Finland, Sweden move closer to seeking NATO membership

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson (L) and Finland's PM Sanna Marin and Finland's President Sauli Niinistö hold press conferences. (Reuters/AFP)
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Updated 15 May 2022

Finland, Sweden move closer to seeking NATO membership

  • Putin has already warned his Finnish counterpart on Saturday that relations would be “negatively affected”
  • NATO Sec-Gen Jens Stoltenberg said the process for Finland and Sweden to join could be very quick

BERLIN: Finland’s government declared a “new era” is underway after announcing its intention to seek NATO membership, hours before Sweden’s governing party on Sunday backed a plan to join the trans-Atlantic alliance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Russia has long bristled about NATO moving closer to its borders, so the developments will be sure to further anger Moscow. President Vladimir Putin has already warned his Finnish counterpart on Saturday that relations would be “negatively affected.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking Sunday after top diplomats from the alliance’s 30 member states met in Berlin, said the process for Finland and Sweden to join could be very quick. He also expressed his hope that Ukraine could win the war as Russian military advances appear to be faltering.
In Finland, President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin made the announcement that their country would seek membership in NATO during a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The previously neutral Nordic country shares a long border with Russia.
“This is a historic day. A new era begins,” Niinisto said.
The Finnish Parliament is expected to endorse the decision in the coming days. A formal membership application will then be submitted to NATO headquarters in Brussels, most likely at some point next week.
Sweden also moved a step closer to applying for NATO membership after the governing Social Democratic party backed joining the trans-Atlantic alliance.
“At its meeting today, the Social Democrats’ party board has decided that the party will work for Sweden to apply for membership in NATO,” the party said in a statement.
The plan to join the alliance will be discussed in Sweden’s parliament on Monday, and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s Cabinet will make an announce later that day.
“Russia’s war in Ukraine is not going as Moscow had planned,” Stoltenberg said by video link to the NATO meeting in Berlin as he recovers from a COVID-19 infection.” “They failed to take Kyiv. They are pulling back from around Kharkiv. Their major offensive in Donbas has stalled. Russia is not achieving its strategic objectives.”
“Ukraine can win this war,” he said, adding that NATO must continue to step up its military support to the country.
Sweden has also already taken steps toward joining the alliance, while Georgia’s bid is again being discussed despite dire warnings from Moscow about the consequences if its neighbor becomes part of NATO.
Nordic NATO member Norway said it strongly welcomed Finland’s decision to seek membership. Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt described Helsinki’s move as “a turning point” for the Nordic region’s defense and security policies.
“Finnish membership in NATO will be good for Finland, good for the Nordic region, and good for NATO. Finland has Norway’s full support,” Huitfeldt said in comments emailed to The Associated Press.
Huitfeldt said the Norwegian government would facilitate “a swift consent to ratification by the Norwegian Parliament” for Finland’s accession into NATO.
“We are now seeing unprecedented unity in NATO. With the Finnish membership, we will further strengthen the Nordic flank of the military alliance,” Huitfeldt said.
Stoltenberg said he was confident the accession process for Finland and Sweden could be expedited. In the meantime, the alliance would increase its presence in the Baltic region to deter Russian threats, he said.
“All allies realize the historic magnitude of the moment,” Stoltenberg added.
That sentiment was echoed by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
“Sweden and Finland, if you’re ready, we’re ready,” she said.
But NATO member Turkey has raised concerns about the two countries joining, alleging they support Kurdish militants that Ankara considers terrorists.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has waged an insurgency against Turkey since 1984 and the conflict has killed tens of thousands of people. Turkey has also been infuriated by US support for PKK-linked Syrian Kurdish militants to fight the Daesh group.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters in Berlin on Sunday that Finland and Sweden had also imposed restrictions on defense sales to Turkey that he called “unacceptable.”
“It’s not because we are against the expansion of NATO but because we believe countries who support terror and follow such policies against us should not be NATO allies,” Çavuşoğlu said.
However, Stoltenberg said his understanding is that Turkey aims not to keep Finland or Sweden out but rather to have its concerns addressed first.
“Turkey has made it clear that their intention is not to block membership,” he said.
Nonetheless, Turkey’s raising of its grievances has led to concerns in Washington and Brussels that other NATO members might also use the admission process as a way to wring concessions from allies, possibly complicating and delaying accession.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who spoke with Çavuşoğlu and will see him again on the margins of a special UN Security Council meeting later this week in New York, declined to comment on those concerns. But he voiced confidence that all NATO members would support the bids.
“I heard almost across the board, very strong support for Finland and Sweden joining the alliance, if that’s what they choose to do, and I’m very confident that we will reach consensus,” he said after the meeting in Berlin.
On the sidelines of the Berlin meeting, Blinken met earlier Sunday with Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to discuss the impact of the war and how to get Ukraine’s grain to international markets.
Britain’s top diplomat said NATO members would also discuss security issues beyond Europe during their meeting Sunday — a reference to growing unease among democratic nations about the rise of China.
“As well as protecting Euro-Atlantic security, we also need to watch out for Indo-Pacific security,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.
Denmark’s foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, dismissed suggestions that objections from Putin could hinder the alliance from letting in new members.
“We see now a world where the enemy of democracy number one is Putin and the thinking that he represents,” Kofod said, adding that NATO would also stand with other countries, such as Georgia, which he said were being “instrumentalized” by Russia.


Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy

Updated 5 sec ago

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment ‘alarming’-US envoy

WASHINGTON D.C.: Iran added demands unrelated to discussions on its nuclear program during the latest talks and has made alarming progress on enriching uranium, the US envoy for talks on reinstating a nuclear deal said on Tuesday.
US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that there was a proposal on the table for a timeline by which Iran could come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and Washington could ease sanctions on Tehran.
Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week without the hoped-for progress.
Malley said Iranian negotiators added new demands.
“They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they’ve wanted in the past,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio.
The demands included some that the United States and Europeans have said could not be part of negotiations.
“The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we’re prepared to have that. It’s between Iran and itself,” Malley said. “They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal.”
Under the nuclear pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment program, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy.
Then-US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.
Now, Tehran is much closer to having enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, Malley said, though they do not appear to have resumed their weaponization program.
“But we are of course alarmed, as are our partners, about the progress they’ve made in the enrichment field,” Malley said.
Iran has enough highly enriched uranium on hand to make a bomb and could do so in a matter of weeks, he said.
Malley said Americans were also working a parallel track to secure the release of Americans detained in Iran. Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and is the longest-held Iranian American prisoner, made a plea for help in a New York Times piece on Sunday headlined: “I’m an American, Why Have I Been Left to Rot as a Hostage of Iran?“
“We hope that regardless of what happens with the nuclear talks, we’ll be able to resolve this issue because it weighs in our minds every single day,” Malley said.

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

Updated 05 July 2022

Rebel land mine wounds 7 soldiers in central Philippines

  • The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines

MANILA: A land mine set by suspected communist guerrillas wounded seven soldiers in the central Philippines on Tuesday, in one of the insurgents’ first known attacks since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office last week.
Army troops were checking reports from villagers of anti-personnel mines laid by New People’s Army rebels along a village trail in Mapanas town in Northern Samar province when an explosion wounded the seven soldiers, regional army commander Maj. Gen. Edgardo de Leon said.
Two of the wounded soldiers were in critical condition, he said, adding that no villagers were injured.
“Some of the soldiers were tossed away because the rebels have been using really powerful land mines,” de Leon said.
The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines, de Leon told reporters.
The soldiers were not able to open fire at the rebels, who fled after the attack and were being hunted by government forces, he said.
On Friday, a day after Marcos Jr. was sworn in after winning a landslide victory in a May 9 election, government troops assaulted eight communist rebels, killing one, in a brief gunbattle in central Negros Oriental province, the army said.
Marcos Jr. must deal with decades-long communist and Muslim insurgencies, along with longstanding territorial disputes with China and other claimants in the South China Sea.
During the campaign, he said he would pursue peace talks with communist insurgents and expressed support for a government task force established under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to fight the insurgency by bringing infrastructure, housing and livelihood projects to the poverty-stricken countryside.
The task force has drawn criticism for linking several left-wing activists and government critics to the communist insurgency, in what Duterte’s opponents said was baseless “red-tagging” aimed at muzzling legitimate dissent.
Despite battle setbacks, infighting and factionalism, the communist insurgency has continued to rage, mostly in rural areas, for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions. It currently has an estimated 2,700 armed fighters.
The new president is the son of the late leader Ferdinand Marcos, whose counterinsurgency program was known for killings, torture and disappearances of suspected rebels, left-wing activists and their supporters.
The elder Marcos was overthrown in an army-backed 1986 “People Power” pro-democracy uprising that drove him and his family into US exile.
After Marcos died in Hawaii in 1989, his widow and children returned to the Philippines, where they achieved a stunning political comeback by whitewashing the family image on social media, critics say.


US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

Updated 05 July 2022

US F-35 fighters arrive in South Korea as joint military drills ramp up

  • The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement

SEOUL: US Air Force F-35A stealth fighters arrived in South Korea on Tuesday on their first publicly announced visit since 2017 as the allies and nuclear-armed North Korean engage in an escalating cycle of displays of weapons.
Joint military drills had been publicly scaled back in recent years, first in 2018 because of efforts to engage diplomatically with North Korea and later because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has sought to increase public displays of allied military power, including exercises, to counter a record number of missile tests conducted by North Korea this year.
North Korea also appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.
The six F-35As will be in South Korea for 10 days, South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
“The purpose of this deployment is to demonstrate the strong deterrent and joint defense posture of the US-ROK alliance while at the same time improving the interoperability between the ROK and US Air Force,” the ministry said, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name.
The aircraft deployed from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, US Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement.
A USFK spokesperson said it was the first public deployment of the 5th generation fighter aircraft to South Korea since December 2017, but did not elaborate whether there had been unannounced visits.
A former senior US official previously told Reuters that during diplomatic talks many drills had in fact continued but had not been publicized.
South Korea has purchased 40 of its own F-35As from the United States, and is looking to buy another 20. The South Korean air force F-35As will be among the aircraft participating in the joint drills, USFK said.
North Korea has denounced joint exercises as well as South Korea’s weapons purchases as an example of “hostile policies” that prove US offers to negotiate without preconditions are hollow.


NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

Updated 05 July 2022

NATO launches ratification process for Sweden, Finland membership

  • A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two

BRUSSELS: The process to ratify Sweden and Finland as the newest members of NATO was formally launched on Tuesday, the military alliance’s head Jens Stoltenberg said, marking a historic step brought on by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“This is a good day for Finland and Sweden and a good day for NATO,” Stoltenberg told reporters in a joint press statement with the Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers.

“With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” he added.

The NATO secretary general was speaking ahead of a meeting in which the ambassadors from NATO’s 30 member states were expected to sign the accession protocols for the two Nordic countries, opening a months-long period for alliance countries to ratify their membership.

 

“We are tremendously grateful for all the strong support that our accession has received from the allies,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde.

“We are convinced that our membership would strengthen NATO and add to the stability in the Euro Atlantic area,” she added.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Sweden and Finland in parallel announced their intention to drop their military non-alignment status and become part of NATO.

A NATO summit in Madrid last week endorsed that move by issuing invitations to the two, after Turkey won concessions over concerns it had raised and a US promise it would receive new warplanes.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused Sweden and Finland of being havens for Kurdish militants he has sought to crush, and for promoting “terrorism.”

He also demanded they lift arms embargoes imposed for Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.

But Erdogan has kept the rest of NATO on tenterhooks by saying he could still block Sweden and Finland’s bids if they fail to follow through on their promises, some of which were undisclosed, such as possible extradition agreements.

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Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

Updated 05 July 2022

Monsoon rains lash Pakistan; 6 killed in country’s southwest

  • Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens

QUETTA, Pakistan: At least six people, including women and children, were killed when the roofs of their homes collapsed in heavy rains lashing southwestern Pakistan and other parts of the country, a provincial disaster management agency said Tuesday.
There were fears the death toll could be higher as several people went missing after flash flooding hit southwestern Baluchistan province’s remote areas overnight, according to a statement from the agency.
Authorities say the latest spell of torrential rains, which started on Monday and continued on Tuesday, also damaged dozens of homes in Baluchistan.
Since June, rains have killed 38 people and damaged more than 200 homes across Pakistan, including in Baluchistan, where over the weekend, a passenger bus skidded off a road and fell into a deep ravine amid heavy rain, killing 19 people.
Floods triggered by seasonal monsoon rains wreak havoc in Pakistan every year, killing dozens.