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Swedish envoys look for Turkey's NATO support

May 16, 2022

With Swedish and Finnish lawmakers set to formally apply for entry into NATO, member state Turkey has said it is concerned about both countries hosting "terrorists."

Jens Stoltenberg speaking at a podium
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said he doesn't expect Turkey to hold up membership proceedingsImage: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

A team of Swedish diplomats will head to Turkey for talks on "resolving" Ankara's objections to Sweden joining NATO, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said Monday.

Speaking to Swedish media ahead of a formal vote by lawmakers to hand in the membership application, Hultqvist said the diplomats would hold "discussions and dialogue" to see "what this is really about."

Adding a new member to NATO requires approval by all 30 members of the alliance and their parliaments.

Why is Turkish support in question?

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey did not have a "positive opinion" about Finland and Sweden's ambitions to join the military alliance.

Erdogan accused both countries of harboring "terrorist organizations."

On Monday, the Turkish strongman went further during a news conference, telling reporters that Sweden and Finland should "not bother sending delegations to Ankara" to win approval for their NATO bids. 

He went on to allege that the Nordic democracies seat terrorists in their parliaments, and called both countries "hatcheries" for terrorism. 

Although Turkey has yet to explain why it objects to either country joining in detail, Sweden in particular has a long history of granting residence or even political asylum to Kurds from Turkey fleeing decades of internal conflict.

Speaking with Turkish reporters after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Sunday said that Sweden and Finland must stop supporting terrorists in their countries, provide clear security guarantees and lift export bans on Turkey.

Turkey has tried to play a role as mediator during the war in Ukraine by hosting negotiations and maintaining ties with Moscow, Ukraine, and the West.

Although Ankara has not joined sanctions on Russia, it has also expressed its opposition to the invasion and supplied military drones to Ukraine.

Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan's chief foreign policy advisor, told Reuters news agency on  Monday that Turkey is trying to maintain a "balanced position" and wants to be in a position to "be able to speak to the Russian side as well as to the Ukrainian side."

On Sunday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he didn't expect Turkey to block membership proceedings.

"I'm confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn't delay the membership," he said.

Sweden, Finland to hand in membership applications

On Sunday, Sweden's ruling Social Democrats broke a 73-year policy of "non-alignment" and said they would back NATO membership, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine has changed the security calculus in northern Europe.

Lawmakers in Stockholm will hold a parliamentary debate Monday on joining, which is seen as a formality, since a broad majority supports the move. The government is set to formally apply later in the day, Hultqvist said.

Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, also confirmed on Sunday it would apply to join NATO.

On Monday, Russia's deputy foreign minister said Sweden and Finland were making a "grave mistake with far reaching consequences" by pursuing NATO membership.

"The fact that the security of Sweden and Finland will not be strengthened as a result of this decision is very clear to us," said Sergei Ryabkov, according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

"They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it," he added. "The general level of military tension will rise, predictability in this sphere will decrease."

wmr/kb (Reuters, AFP)