Turkey: Erdogan to discuss NATO candidacy with new Swedish leader

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had agreed to meet Sweden’s new prime minister in Ankara to discuss the Scandinavian country’s NATO bid, describing the visit as a chance to test Stockholm’s ‘sincerity’ in compliance with Turkey’s conditions.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden abandoned a longstanding policy of military non-alignment and this year applied for NATO membership with neighboring Finland. Turkey, already a member of the military alliance, threatened to block the process.

Erdogan‘s government has imposed a series of demands on Stockholm, including cracking down on Kurdish groups that Ankara accuses of terrorism and considers threats to national security.

Erdogan told a group of reporters on Thursday after returning from a trip to Azerbaijan that Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson had made comments “in support of the fight against terrorism and terrorists”. The Turkish leader said he accepted Kristersson’s request to visit the Turkish capital.

“Of course, we will test their sincerity on this issue during this visit,” Erdogan said in comments quoted by Turkish media on Friday.

NATO works by consensus, so Sweden and Finland need Turkey’s approval to join. The Turkish and Hungarian parliaments have yet to ratify their membership.

“Our position has not changed,” Erdogan said. “There are no compromises in the fight against terrorism and we have no intention of making concessions.”

Meanwhile, Sweden’s new foreign minister, Tobias Billstrom, said the government “attaches the highest priority to our NATO membership“. He called a possible meeting between Kristersson and Erdogan good news.

“We believe that close dialogue and close consultation with all three parties to this trial memorandum is the way forward,” said Billstrom, who met his Finnish counterpart, Pekka Haavisto, in Helsinki on Friday.

Last month, Sweden announced it would lift an arms embargo it imposed on Turkey in 2019 following a Turkish military operation against the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria. The move was widely seen as a step to gain Ankara’s approval for Sweden’s NATO membership.

“We believe that everything will lead to what we expect: namely, ratification from and by the Turkish parliament,” Billstrom said.

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