NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday he would soon travel to Turkey to discuss Sweden’s NATO membership, in a bid to close a process that has been delayed due to objections from member countries Turkey and Hungary.
Speaking during a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo, Stoltenberg said he had spoken earlier this week to Tayyip Erdogan, who was re-elected as Turkey’s president on Sunday.
“I will also travel to Ankara in the near future to continue to address how we can ensure the fastest possible accession of Sweden,” Stoltenberg told reporters.
Some NATO foreign ministers expressed optimism that now the election was over, Ankara would lift its objections to Stockholm’s bid to join the military alliance. Turkey ratified Finland’s NATO accession in March, but says Sweden harbours members of militant groups it considers terrorists.
“Now that Turkish elections are over, it is important that Turkey goes on with the ratification process,” said Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.
Stoltenberg said at the end of the meeting that with the Turkish election over, “it is important to restart the dialogue and the process”, noting that Sweden had on Thursday implemented new terrorism legislation, thus addressing a key Turkish concern.
“Sweden has delivered,” Stoltenberg said. “The time has come to ratify Sweden(its membership) and I am working hard so that it happens as soon as possible.”
Several foreign ministers expressed confidence Sweden could become a member before or at a NATO summit in July in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“We’re continuing to work to complete the accession process for Sweden … and we fully anticipate doing so by the time the leaders meet in Vilnius,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Summit host Lithuania was similarly upbeat. “There is a very high expectation that the Swedish flag will be raised (in Vilnius),” said its foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis.
Sweden, invited to Oslo, stressed again it had fulfilled all the conditions set to become a member of the military alliance.
“We have fulfilled all our commitments,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters. “It is time for Turkey and Hungary to start the ratification of Swedish membership to NATO.”
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in a tweet replying to his Swedish counterpart, said Stockholm should fulfil its anti-terrorism commitments as part of the agreement.
“A crystal clear message to our Swedish Friends! Fulfil your commitments… and take concrete steps in the fight against terrorism. The rest will follow,” Cavusoglu said.