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Turkey says Sweden 'not even halfway' to NATO candidacy

December 22, 2022

A Swedish court's refusal to extradite a Turkish journalist, wanted for alleged links to the 2016 coup, has soured negotiations over Sweden's NATO ascension.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, shakes hands with Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom following a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022.
Turkey says Stockholm still has a long way to go in fulfilling its commitments to secure Ankara's approval to its NATO membershipImage: Ali Unal/ ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance

Turkey's foreign minister said on Thursday that Sweden was not even "halfway" through fulfilling commitments made to secure Ankara's support for its NATO membership, despite appreciation for the steps thus far taken.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke in a press conference with Swedish counterpart Tobias Billstrom, who is in Ankara on a visit.

Turkey reached atrilateral agreement with Sweden and Finland last June during the NATO summit in Madrid regarding steps it said the two Nordic countries needed to make to secure its approval for joining the alliance.

The two countries abandoned their decades-long non-alignment policy and applied to join the western alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. However, Ankara was quick to declare it would not approve the application unless the duo reverted their policies on what it described as supporting terrorism, in reference to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).

What triggered Turkey's discontent?

Billstrom's visit came on the heels of a Swedish court's decision not to extradite a journalist wanted by Turkey. Ankara accuses Bulent Kenes, who was the editor of the English-language Today's Zaman newspaper, of being among the 2016 coup plotters.

Kenes has received asylum in Sweden since.

Bulent Kenes, a 53 year old Turkish journalist who fled from his country to Sweden due to his critics of the Turkish President, poses for a photo.
The decision not to extradite Bülent Kenes "poisoned" a positive atmosphere, Cavusoglu saidImage: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

The decision not to extradite him "poisoned" a positive atmosphere in ongoing negotiations regarding Sweden's NATO membership, Cavusoglu said on Thursday.

Billstrom stressed the independent nature of Sweden's judiciary. He referred to the tougher anti-terrorism laws Sweden is scheduled to introduce as of January 1, saying: "We shouldn't just look at individual cases, we should look at the overall picture."

Steps in Sweden's NATO journey

Though he said Ankara acknowledged the steps Stockholm has thus far taken, Cavusoglu said "there is no concrete development regarding the extradition of terrorism-related criminals and the freezing of their assets."

The Turkish foreign minister referred to the document which Sweden signed in the summer. "It needs to be implemented," he said on Thursday. "We're not even at the halfway point yet. We're at the beginning."

Billstrom said in turn that Sweden has already initiated steps and vowed to continue to implement them, adding: "We have increased our legal cooperation with Turkey concerning suspected terrorists."

NATO chief: Turkey should allow in Sweden, Finland

rmt/jcg (AFP, AP, Reuters)