« The prime ministers of Finland and Sweden have urged Hungary and Turkey to approve their countries’ applications to join Nato, but Ankara insisted it would not lift its objections without further extraditions of suspects it considers terrorists » reports Jon Henley in The Guardian.
The two Nordic nations applied to join the US-led defence alliance in May, jettisoning decades of military non-alignment in a historic policy shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Twenty-eight of Nato’s 30 members have ratified their requests. Hungary and Turkey are the only two not to have done so.
Budapest said last week it supported the applications and its parliament would ratify them by mid-December, but Ankara has again signalled it wants concrete action against groups it deems to be terrorist.
“All eyes are now on Hungary and Turkey,” Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, said on Tuesday. “We are waiting for these countries to ratify our applications. I think it would be important that this would happen preferably sooner than later.”
Sweden’s new prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, said at the same meeting in Helsinki that Sweden had “full respect for the fact that every country within the alliance makes its own decisions”, adding that he was due to visit Ankara in the coming days.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who faces elections next year and is keen to shore up nationalist support, has said his country is still opposed to Sweden’s application, while his ruling AK party spokesperson, Ömer Çelik, said on Monday that Sweden had not yet done enough for Ankara to change its mind.
“These statements of Sweden are good, but not enough until they are implemented,” Çelik said. “We are waiting for it to come to life.” Turkey has said it has more objections to Sweden than Finland but both countries last week reiterated they would join Nato at the same time, maintaining a united front.
Swedish media have reported that Kristersson is set to attend a bilateral meeting in Ankara, probably on 8 November, a few days after Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, who is due to visit the Turkish capital for talks on Friday.
According to the state-run Anadolu Agency, Erdoğan told the Swedish prime minister in a phone call last week that “preventing terrorist organisations from taking hostage Sweden’s Nato membership, and its relations with Turkey, is a common interest”.
Turkey objected to the applications even before they were submitted, citing the countries’ history of hosting members of Kurdish militant groups such as the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) and the followers of the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, as well as a 2019 suspension of arms sales.
The previous Swedish government followed through on parts of a June memorandum signed with Turkey to win Ankara’s support, lifting the arms embargo and blocking financial and other support for Kurdish groups in Syria such as the so-called YPG.
Ankara wants to see more extraditions of individuals it says are linked to the PKK and other groups it considers terrorist. So far, Sweden has approved only two requests. Nordic media have said as many as 73 may be pending.
Some analysts have suggested Sweden’s centre-right government, formed earlier this month, may find it easier to compromise with Turkey than its centre-left predecessor. Sweden’s new foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said on Monday the new coalition had less “baggage” on the Kurdish issue.
“It was amongst other things about past statements people had made and how people viewed the activities of Kurdish groups on Swedish territory,” Billström said, arguing that his Social Democrat predecessor, Ann Linde’s, public support for Kurdish movements had complicated negotiations.
The Guardian, November 1 , 2022, Jon Henley, Photo/Lehtikuva/Vesa Moilanen