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NATO: Sweden prepared to address Turkey's security concerns

June 13, 2022

Turkey has previously accused NATO applicant Sweden of supporting Kurdish militants in the Middle East. In response, Stockholm is modifying its anti-terrorism legislation.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at a press conference in Harpsund
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has welcomed Sweden's aspirations of joining the blocImage: Henrik Montgomery/TT/AFP via Getty Images

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that the Swedish government is prepared "to address Turkey's concerns" as part of its bid for NATO membership.

Following decades of military neutrality, Russia's decision to invade Ukraine drove Finland and Sweden to apply to join NATO last month.

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused both countries of supporting Kurdish militants associated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey views as terrorists. Sweden also placed an arms embargo on Turkey in 2019 following its incursions into Syria.

Ankara has vowed to veto Sweden and Finland's membership to the alliance unless they change their policies. NATO membership applications must be approved by all 30 members of the alliance.

What has Sweden done in deference to Turkey's concerns?

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her country takes Turkey's concerns "very seriously" when "it comes to the fight against terrorism." She added that Sweden's "ambition is that we should have these matters resolved."

Sweden "has already started to change its counter-terrorism legislation," Stoltenberg said, adding Sweden "will ensure that the legal framework for arms exports will reflect their future status as a NATO member with new commitments to allies."

On July 1, Sweden's anti-terror legislation will change. The country's independent weapons export agency has said it will review its policies with NATO membership.

He added, "These are two important steps to address the concerns that Turkey has raised," noting, "The aim is to solve those issues as soon as possible, to be able to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members as soon as possible."

When will Turkey's challenge to the Nordic nations' membership be resolved?

Stoltenberg would not say whether the matter would be resolved before the NATO summit in Madrid on June 28 or prior to Sweden's parliamentary election on September 11.

He did however say that NATO allies have provided security assurances to Sweden while it applies for full membership in the alliance.  If attacked, Stoltenberg vowed that it is "unthinkable that NATO allies would not react."

Sweden, along with Norway, has long cooperated with NATO but as non-members have not been bound by Article Five of the alliance treaty that states an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Stoltenberg said, "Seen from a security perspective, Sweden is in a better place now than before it applied."

At a joint press conference in Harpsund, Sweden, the prime minister's summer residence, Stoltenberg said NATO was working "hard and actively" with Sweden and Turkey to resolve the dispute "as soon as possible." 

Stoltenberg was also in Finland on Sunday to meet with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. There he said Turkey has "legitimate concerns" that need to be taken seriously.

Stoltenberg also indicated there for the first time the possibility of Turkey's objections holding up the two nations' membership bids.

"The summit in Madrid was never a deadline," he said.

ar/wd (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)