NEWS NATIONAL NEWS        11/07/2023

Turkish President agrees to allow Sweden to join NATO

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on his arrival yesterday in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, to attend the NATO summit, first went straight into a meeting with the Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson, chaired by the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. Stoltenberg later said in a news conference that "I'm glad to announce ... that President Erdogan has agreed to forward the accession protocol for Sweden to the grand national assembly as soon as possible, and work closely with the assembly to ensure ratification" and a statement released following the Turkey-Sweden NATO meeting declared that "Both Türkiye and Sweden will look to maximise opportunities to increase bilateral trade and investments. Sweden will actively support efforts to reinvigorate Türkiye's EU accession process, including modernisation of the EU-Türkiye Customs Union and visa liberalisation."


Erdoğan had previously thrown a surprise obstacle in the way of a plan from Joe Biden for Swedish accession to NATO by announcing that he wanted Turkey’s stalled application to join the EU to be included in the package. Speaking at the airport before departing for the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the Turkish president said: “First, let’s pave the way for Turkey in the European Union and then we will pave the way for Sweden just as we did for Finland.”


The US president had been working on a four-country deal that would lead to Turkey allowing Sweden into NATO in return for the upgrading of Turkey’s US F-16 jets and the sale of new US F-16 jets to Ankara, on the condition they are not used to threaten Greece. Erdoğan’s remarks indicated that diplomats’ eve-of-summit efforts to lift the year-long Turkish veto on Sweden’s membership of NATO would be even more complex than envisaged. Turkey has been in talks over joining the EU in one form or another since 1987 but there is no enthusiasm at present for letting such a large country with a questionable human rights record join. Biden held further last-minute talks with Erdoğan on his flight to Europe on Sunday but no breakthrough occurred during their nearly hour-long conversation, according to the White House.


Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, had rejected Erdoğan’s attempt to link Turkey’s EU membership aspirations to Sweden’s application to join Nato. “That’s a question that is not related to the other issue, and therefore I think this should not be seen as a related matter,” Scholz said in Berlin.


Following yesterday’s two hours of talks in Vilnius with the Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, Erdoğan broke off discussions to meet separately with the EU council president, Charles Michel, a development which was a possible indication that EU officialdom is being drawn into his unexpected demand to revive Turkey’s accession talks.


Erdoğan is scheduled to meet Biden and the leaders of other NATO countries today.


Formally, the Swedish bid to follow Finland into NATO remains linked to Erdoğan’s demand that more is done to clamp down on Kurdish activists in Sweden, including extraditing a group of Kurdish exiles seen as suspected terrorists by Ankara. Some of those on the list for extradition are Swedish citizens, and cannot be extradited. The Swedish foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said on Monday: “No one disputes that Sweden has done what we were also expected to do, in accordance with this memorandum, including taking measures that now lead to people who have been active in the PKK (the Kurdish workers party) being punished in Swedish courts.” Last Thursday, a Swedish court convicted a member of the PKK and the country extradited a PKK supporter to Turkey.


Observers acknowledge that even if given the green light by Erdoğan, the Turkish parliament would not be able to ratify Swedish membership by the end of the summit.


Behind the dispute lies a long-running Turkish demand for Turkey’s US F-16 jets to be upgraded and for the purchase of new US F-16 jets to Ankara, something Congress has opposed due to Turkey’s hostility to Greece and its purchase of a Russian air defence system, a move that is seen by some as incompatible with Turkish membership of NATO. Biden has said he now supports the sale of F-16s to Turkey but that he is unable to directly authorise the sale since Congress has a veto.


There are some signs that after his re-election in May, Erdoğan is trying to soften some of Turkey’s many international disputes and a key test is whether he can reach a rapprochement with Greece. Erdogan’s decision to release some former commanders of Ukraine’s garrison in Mariupol in apparent breach of an agreement with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is seen as a goodwill gesture to the west.

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