NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday, July 10, that Turkey has agreed to back Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance – a major headache for Russia and a major development for European security on the eve of the NATO summit.
The announcement represents a stunning reversal from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had earlier on Monday said Sweden could only join the alliance after his country is accepted into the European Union.
Erdoğan has stood in the path of Sweden joining NATO for more than a year over a multitude of concerns but allowed Finland to join the alliance months ago
Speaking at a news conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, following a meeting with Erdoğan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Stoltenberg said that the Turkish president “has agreed to forward the accession protocol for Sweden to the Grand National Assembly as soon as possible, and work closely with the Assembly to ensure ratification.”
Hungary also has not voted to approve Sweden’s membership, though Stoltenberg said Monday that Hungary had made clear that it would not be the last to ratify Sweden’s bid.
The movement on NATO’s accession comes after months of opposition and demands from Erdogan. Turkey claimed that Sweden allows members of recognized Kurdish terror groups to operate, most notably the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey had also accused Swedish officials of complicity in Islamophobic demonstrations, such as the burning of the Quran.
At his news conference Monday, Stoltenberg noted that Sweden and Turkey had “worked closely together to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns.”
“As part of that process, Sweden has amended its constitution, changed its laws, significantly expanded its counter-terrorism cooperation against the PKK, and resumed arms exports to Turkey,” he said.
NATO said in a statement that there were additional commitments made at the meeting between Stoltenberg, Erdogan and Kristersson.
The two countries agreed to continue cooperation on counter-terrorism efforts, and NATO will establish a new Special Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism role, the statement said.
Sweden and Turkey “also agreed to step up economic cooperation.”
In addition, Sweden “will actively support efforts to reinvigorate Türkiye’s EU accession process,” the statement said.
US President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to meet with Erdoğan on Tuesday evening, welcomed the decision.
“I stand ready to work with President Erdoğan and Türkiye on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Biden said in a statement Monday.
The news represents a major win for Biden, who had consistently expressed confidence that Sweden would join the alliance at the Vilnius summit, despite Turkish opposition. The president told CNN in an interview ahead of the summit that he was optimistic that Sweden would eventually be admitted to NATO, noting Turkey is seeking to modernize its F-16 fleet, along with Greece, which has voted to admit Sweden.
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