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Sweden's NATO bid in focus at crucial meet

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2023-06-06 07:28

Ankara voices security issues while Stockholm says obligations fulfilled

Turkiye, Sweden and Finland will meet again this month on Sweden's bid to join NATO after the security alliance's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg failed to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in their meeting in Istanbul on Sunday.

Stoltenberg was in Turkiye to attend Erdogan's inauguration ceremony on Saturday. He also met with Turkiye's new foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, a former director of the National Intelligence Organization who replaces Mevlut Cavusoglu, who held the post since 2014.

"Turkiye has legitimate security concerns. No other ally has faced more terrorist attacks," Stoltenberg told the press on Sunday.

He said Sweden has taken significant, concrete steps to meet Turkiye's concerns by amending the Swedish constitution, ending the arms embargo and stepping up counterterrorism cooperation, including against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

"So Sweden has fulfilled its obligations," he said.

Ankara has objected to Sweden's NATO membership and has accused Sweden of being a "safe haven" for "terrorists" and has issued extradition requests. Sweden only agreed to some requests.

Turkiye, Sweden and Finland signed a trilateral agreement during the NATO summit in Madrid last June for Turkiye to open the NATO door to the two Nordic countries provided they fulfill certain conditions.

Finland joined NATO in April after the Turkish Parliament ratified its membership in late March.

Besides Turkiye, Hungary is another NATO member that has yet to ratify Sweden's membership. All 31 members must agree before Sweden can join.

On the same day of the meeting between Stoltenberg and Erdogan, hundreds of people took to the streets in Stockholm to protest against Sweden's NATO bid and its new anti-terror law, which took effect on June 1. Protesters waved PKK flags, along with signs reading: "No to NATO".

Protests emerge

"They are after the Kurds in Sweden," said Tomas Pettersson, spokesman for the Alliance Against NATO.

Turkiye last week urged Swedish authorities to block the scheduled demonstration, titled "No to NATO, No Erdogan Laws in Sweden" organized by groups close to PKK. A spokesman for the Turkish presidency said it was "completely unacceptable that PKK terrorists continue to operate freely in Sweden".

In January, Erdogan suspended the meetings after a protester in Stockholm burned a copy of the Quran. The incident led to anti-Sweden protests around the Muslim world.

Asked about Sweden's chances of becoming a NATO member before the next NATO summit on July 11-12 in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, Stoltenberg said that there is time, and he and Erdogan have agreed that the permanent joint mechanism set up last June will meet again in the week starting on June 12.

NATO defense ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels on June 15 and 16.

NATO's rapid expansion in the last three decades, including Ukraine's aspiration to join NATO, has been widely regarded as a key trigger for the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

US President Joe Biden said last week that he is confident that Sweden will join NATO "as soon as possible".

"I congratulated Erdogan. He still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden, so let's get that done," Biden told reporters last week, referring to Turkiye's bid to finalize a $20 billion deal for F-16 fighter jets.

Luigi Scazzieri, a senior research fellow at the London-based Center for European Reform, said that in theory there are fewer political benefits for Erdogan in blocking Sweden's accession after he won reelection.

"Still, Erdogan is likely to want something highly tangible in return for lifting the veto," he wrote in an article posted on the center's website.

Scazzieri listed an invitation to the White House and the F-16 purchase, which many in US Congress have opposed. He believes that it is possible that the US and Turkiye will reach an understanding that Ankara will allow Sweden to join with the US in providing F-16s soon after.

"But if a deal cannot be struck before the NATO Vilnius summit in July, tensions between Turkiye and its Western allies are bound to increase," he said.

Agencies contributed to the story.

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