Critical period for Nordic NATO bids as Türkiye to host key figures

Türkiye is preparing to host the head of NATO and the new Swedish prime minister in the next days to evaluate the acceptance of possible NATO memberships of Finland and Sweden.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will visit Turkey on November 4 to discuss the nearly completed process for Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance.

Stoltenberg is due to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has warned that his country will not accept the two countries’ membership “until they keep their promises”.

Ankara has accused Helsinki and Stockholm, in particular, of harboring illegal PKK-linked militants who are considered “terrorists” by Ankara.

In June, Turkey, Sweden and Finland reached an agreement that includes provisions on extradition and information sharing.

The two Nordic countries abandoned their long-standing alignment policies earlier this year, seeking to join NATO because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how it has reshaped Europe’s security.

Stoltenberg announced plans to visit Turkey on Wednesday, praising the “close contact” Stockholm and Helsinki now have with Ankara “at all levels”.

He said: “I will go to Istanbul to meet President Erdogan myself in the near future.”

Erdogan also accepted a request by Sweden’s new prime minister, Ulf Kristerson, to visit Turkey as Stockholm struggles to overcome Ankara’s blocking of its NATO bid.

A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the visit is likely to take place on November 8.

A representative for Christerson could not confirm the date. “We’re working on it,” she said.

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Turkey is “ready to advance bilateral relations with the Swedish government in all fields,” Erdogan said during a telephone call with the Swedish premier last week.

Christerson described the call as “constructive,” adding on Twitter that he “looks forward to visiting Ankara soon,” without providing any details.

Erdogan said at the same time that he was “happy to welcome Kristerson to Ankara,” according to a statement from the Turkish presidency.

Türkiye is “ready to advance bilateral relations with the Swedish government in all fields,” it added in English.

NATO accession is a priority for Sweden’s new moderate government.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Sweden and neighboring Finland tore up their longstanding military nonalignment policies and asked to join the US-led military alliance. This move has strong support from many members of NATO.

On Wednesday, Kristerson also reiterated that his government would fulfill the “tripartite memorandum” between Sweden, Finland and Turkey.

The memorandum refers to an agreement signed by the three states in late June, in which Turkey would allow itself to go ahead with a formal invitation if certain conditions were met. The text confirms that Stockholm and Helsinki consider the PKK a “terrorist” organization. The Nordic countries have pledged not to support various groups that Ankara dubs “terrorists,” including the YPG, the Syrian branch of the PKK.

Under the agreement with Türkiye, Sweden and Finland also agreed to address Ankara’s requests to extradite or extradite “terrorist suspects”.

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Christerson announced that he was ready to travel to Ankara to meet Erdogan, who quickly agreed to receive him, but warned that the Turkish parliament would not accept the two Nordic countries’ extradition demands until they joined NATO.

“President Erdogan emphasized that it is in the common interest to prevent Sweden’s bilateral relations with (Turkey) and its membership in NATO from being taken hostage by terrorist organizations,” the presidency said.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said on Tuesday that Stockholm would fulfill its promises, but stressed that it must be done “in a legally secure way… in accordance with the constitution”.

In August, Stockholm authorized the first extradition to Turkey since the Madrid agreement was reached, but the case was related to fraud and not “terrorism”.

In late September, Swedish officials lifted a ban on military exports to Turkey, meeting another of Ankara’s demands.

To date, 28 of the 30 NATO member states have accepted the accession of Sweden and Finland. Only Hungary and Turkey remain, but new members to the alliance need unanimous approval.

Finland and Sweden are set to join NATO at the same time, with their prime ministers also offering a united front to Turkey on Friday, raising questions about both their applications.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said on Friday that Erdogan had more questions about Sweden than about his own country. But she said she would not abandon Sweden in the process.

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“It is very important for us that Finland and Sweden join NATO together,” Marin told reporters at a joint press conference in Helsinki with his Swedish counterpart.

Erdogan recently said on October 6 that his country still opposes Sweden’s bid.

Christerson, who took office last week, said: “We are taking every step, hand in hand so far, and none of us have any other ambitions.”

He said he will meet Erdogan soon. “It is completely legitimate for Türkiye to get confirmation that Sweden will do what Sweden has committed to within the framework of the agreement,” he added.

Kristerson said Sweden was fully committed to fulfilling the terms of a tripartite agreement reached in Madrid aimed at overcoming Turkey’s objections to Stockholm’s bid to join the NATO alliance alongside Finland.

“We have to do our part in that and we are doing our part in that,” Kristerson told reporters after meeting his Finnish counterpart in Helsinki.

“We are working very hard to fulfill what Sweden wants to do and we will report in detail what we have achieved.”

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