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Sweden: Turkey wants what we cannot give for NATO membership

January 8, 2023

The prime minister says Ankara is asking for too much in a drawn-out obstruction of NATO membership bid. He voiced confidence that Turkey would relent but could not say when.

Two men in suits shaking hands on a stage with flags and speaker's pulpits in the background: Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (l) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (r)
Swedish PM Kristersson (l) says he is confident that Turkey's Erdogan (r) will eventually relentImage: Burhan Ozbilici/AP Photo/picture alliance

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Turkey was asking too much in return for ending its obstruction of NATO membership for Sweden and neighboring Finland,  speaking Sunday at a security conference attended by NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.

"Turkey has confirmed that we have done what we said we would do. But it also says that it wants things that we can't, that we don't want to give," said PM Kristersson, adding, "We are convinced that Turkey will make a decision, we just don't know when."

The Swede said that decision will depend on his country's ability "to show its seriousness," as well as internal political factors in Turkey during an election year.

Sweden, along with neighboring Finland, reversed a long-established military non-alignment policy by requesting to join the NATO alliance last May in the wake of Russia's February invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey, an important NATO ally, has used the situation to leverage concessions from Western partners. Accession into NATO requires unanimous support from all 30 members.

Turkey opposes Sweden, Finland joining NATO

Why has Turkey blocked NATO membership for Sweden?

At Sunday's Folk och Foersvar (Society and Defense) Security Conference in Swedish Saelen, NATO head Stoltenberg said that in an increasingly hostile world "it is even more important that Sweden and Finland become NATO members."

Stoltenberg, a Norwegian, warned that to underestimate Russia risked "major consequences for security in the Nordic region."

Despite this urgency, Turkey has for months unilaterally blocked membership in an effort to force Finland, but especially Sweden, to join its fight against Kurdish militants and those whom Ankara labels enemies of the state.

Turkey has maintained tense ties with both Russia and the West for years and has most recently positioned itself as a broker in scenarios tied to the war in Ukraine, such as seeking to facilitate grain shipments from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean along the Bosporus.

Kurds in Sweden fear crackdown, extradition

What does Turkey want from Sweden?

In June, Finland, Sweden and Turkey signed a three-way agreement to address Ankara's concerns over what it called "harboring militants" and people with ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Ankara, the US and the EU have designated a terror organization.

Though Ankara in December announced satisfaction over the way Sweden had addressed its security concerns, the Erdogan government has continued to press for more concessions before supporting membership.

One key ask from the start has been Ankara's insistence that a number of individuals it says have ties to a failed 2016 coup be extradited to Turkey to stand trial.

Thousands of individuals accused of acting against the Erdogan government have been jailed since that time. 

In late December, Ankara voiced displeasure when the Supreme Court of Sweden blocked the extradition of a journalist it accuses of having ties to exiled Islamic cleric Fettulah Gulen, whom Erdogan sees behind the coup plot.

Notwithstanding, Stoltenberg on Sunday said he was confident he would soon be able to warmly welcome Sweden and Finland to the alliance.

Stoltenberg did not offer an exact date but suggested membership would be extended this year, saying, "The time has come to bring the accession process to a close and ratify the accession protocol."

NATO chief: Turkey should allow in Sweden, Finland

js/aw (AFP, Reuters)