Oslo: NATO Thursday ramped up pressure on its member Turkiye to drop its objections to Sweden’s membership as the military organisation seeks to deal with the issue by the time US President Joe Biden and his counterparts meet next month.
Fearing that they might be targeted after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella.
Finland became NATO’s 31st member country in April.
NATO must agree unanimously for countries to join. Turkiye’s government accuses Sweden of being too lenient on terrorist organisations and security threats, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.
Hungary has also delayed its approval, but the reasons why have not been made publicly clear.
“It’s time for Sweden to join now,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt told reporters in Oslo, where she was hosting a meeting with her counterparts to prepare for NATO’s July 11-12 summit in Lithuania.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that he would travel to Ankara “in the near future to continue to address how we can ensure the fastest possible accession of Sweden.” He was unable to provide a precise date for his trip.
“I’m confident that also Hungary will ratify the accession protocol,” Stoltenberg said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “It is essential that we can finally welcome Sweden as the 32nd member.” She stressed that the Swedish government has Berlin’s “full support.”
Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said that “it is time for Turkiye and Hungary to start the ratification of the Swedish membership to NATO.”
He said that “everything (that) bars Sweden from joining NATO will be seen as wine for (Russian president Vladimir) Putin.”
For months Sweden, Finland and Turkiye have been holding talks to try to address Ankara’s concerns. Billström said that he expects things to be made clear at a new meeting of this “permanent joint mechanism” in coming weeks.
He noted that as of Thursday Sweden had tightened its anti-terrorism laws. It is now it illegal to finance, recruit for or publicly encourage “a terrorist organisation,” or to travel abroad with the intention of joining such groups.
The time may be ripe for movement. Sweden’s membership became embroiled in campaigning for elections in Turkiye, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won Sunday.
Erdogan has also been seeking upgraded US fighter jets, and Washington signaled this week that they might be delivered.
“I spoke to Erdogan and he still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden. So let’s get that done,” Biden said Monday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Tuesday insisted that the issues of Sweden’s membership and the fighter jets were distinct.
However, he stressed that the completion of both would dramatically strengthen European security.
“Both of these are vital, in our judgement, to European security,” Blinken told reporters.
“We believe that both should go forward as quickly as possible; that is to say Sweden’s accession and moving forward on the F-16 package more broadly.”