Turkey has told Sweden it expects to ratify its long-delayed accession to the NATO military alliance within weeks, Sweden’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO last year after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a NATO member, raised objections over what he said was the two countries’ protection of groups that Ankara deems terrorists.
Turkey endorsed Finland’s membership bid in April, but has kept Sweden waiting.
“I had a bilateral with my colleague, the (Turkish) foreign minister … where he told me that he expected the ratification to take place within weeks,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters before the second day of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.
There was no immediate confirmation or comment by Turkey.
Turkey has demanded that Sweden take more steps to rein in local members of the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.
In response, Stockholm introduced an anti-terrorism bill that makes membership of a terrorist organisation illegal, while also lifting arms export restrictions on Turkey. It says it has upheld its part of a deal signed last year.
Some in NATO had hoped Sweden’s ratification would be completed by now, in time for an accession ceremony to take place on the sidelines of the Brussels meeting.
“The Turkish foreign minister (Hakan Fidan) didn’t present a date but said ‘within weeks’. He expected the ratification of Sweden’s NATO protocol to be made within weeks. That was what he told me yesterday,” Billstrom said.
His remarks echoed comments by a senior U.S. State Department official.
“I will say the summary of the meeting was it will be done before the end of the year,” said the official, speaking on Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
Sweden’s NATO membership is also pending ratification by Hungary.
“(Prime Minister) Viktor Orban has repeatedly said that Hungary won’t be the last to ratify Sweden’s membership,” Billstrom said, adding that Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto again confirmed this when they talked on Tuesday.
“That means that it is more in the hands of Ankara than maybe of Budapest. We expect white smoke from Budapest the moment there is white smoke from Ankara,” Billstrom said.
What Turkey gained in delaying Sweden’s bid
WHAT CONCESSIONS HAVE SWEDEN AND FINLAND MADE?
At a NATO meeting in Madrid last year, Turkey secured an agreement with Sweden and Finland in which they would lift arms embargoes and take measures against members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and the separate so-called Gulen movement that Ankara holds responsible for a 2016 coup attempt.
Last year, Stockholm reversed a ban on exporting military equipment to Turkey, without revealing details of companies or products.
In June, it introduced a new anti-terrorism bill that makes being a member of a terrorist organization illegal, saying that it had upheld its part of the deal.
In recent months, a top Swedish court blocked the extradition of two Turks that Ankara says are Gulenists, while an appeals court upheld the conviction of a man for attempting to finance the PKK, which is also deemed a terrorist group by the European Union and United States.
Separately, in response to criticism in Turkey and other majority Muslim countries, Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer said Sweden was examining whether it could change the law to stop people burning the Muslim holy book the Koran in public.
Finland, for its part, agreed last year to consider granting arms export permits to Turkey on a case-by-case basis. After nearly a year wait, Ankara said Helsinki had won its blessing.
WHAT HAVE OTHER NATO MEMBERS DONE?
When Erdogan signalled at a NATO conference in July that Sweden would eventually get the green light, NATO member Canada quietly agreed to re-open talks with Turkey on lifting export controls on drone parts, including optical equipment.
The Netherlands lifted restrictions on arms deliveries to Turkey.
Also in July, following a meeting between Turkish and Swedish leaders, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced NATO would establish a special coordinator for counterterrorism. In October, he appointed Assistant Secretary-General Thomas Goffus to the post.
SWEDEN’S GO-AHEAD FOR U.S. F-16 FIGHTERS?
Hanging over discussions has been the question of Washington’s endorsement of Ankara’s request to purchase $20 billion worth of F-16 fighter jets and 79 modernisation kits.
A day after Erdogan gave the green light for Sweden to join NATO in July, the White House said it would move ahead with the transfer of the F-16s to Turkey in consultation with Congress.
In October, Erdogan sent Sweden’s NATO bid to Turkey’s parliament for consideration. But he has said Washington was linking the F-16s ratification with that of Sweden.
Ankara made the F-16 purchase request in 2021. But it has faced objections in the U.S. Congress over Turkey’s delaying of NATO enlargement and its human rights record. Ankara has since floated a potential purchase of Eurofighter jets instead.