Turkey demands Sweden take concrete steps prior to NATO approval

Ankara is demanding that Sweden and Finland extradite Kurdish rebels before lifting a veto on their membership bid.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson shake hands.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson shake hands at the Presidential Palace in Ankara [Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Reuters]

Ankara has conveyed its request for Sweden to work towards countering “terrorism” threats before clearing the country’s application to join NATO, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

“We understand their security concerns, and we want Sweden to respond to ours,” Erdogan said after meeting Sweden’s prime minister at the presidential palace in Ankara on Tuesday.

The Turkish leader, who has accused the Scandinavian nation and its neighbour Finland of harbouring Kurdish rebel groups that are outlawed in Turkey, added that he “sincerely wished” that Sweden joined the US-led military alliance.

Another meeting on the NATO membership bid was scheduled for later this month, he said, without specifying the date.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their longstanding policies of military nonalignment and applied for NATO membership this year after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February, fearing that Russian President Vladimir Putin might target them next.

But Turkey, which joined NATO in 1952, has not yet endorsed their accession, which requires unanimous approval from existing alliance members.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he understood Turkey’s fight against “terrorism” and promised to respond to its requests.

Erdogan has demanded that Oslo and Helsinki extradite members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has battled against the Turkish state for decades and is considered a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

Turkey accused Sweden, in particular, of leniency towards the PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). In June, it said it had provided Oslo and Helsinki with a list of people it wanted extradited.

The PKK is blacklisted by Ankara and most of its Western allies. But the YPG has been a key player in the US-led military alliance combatting the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria.

Kristersson described Tuesday’s meeting with Erdogan as “very productive”.

“Sweden will live up to all the obligations made to Turkey in countering the terrorist threat,” he said.

“My government was elected just a few weeks ago on a mandate to put law and order first. And this includes countering terrorism and terrorist organizations like the PKK in Sweden,” he added.

While Sweden has in the past voiced support for the YPG and its political wing, Kristersson’s government appears to be distancing itself.

The Swedish parliament said it would vote next week on a constitutional amendment that would make it possible to strengthen “anti-terror” laws, a key demand from Turkey.

The amendment would enable new laws to “limit freedom of association of groups involved in terrorism”, the parliament said in a statement, adding that the vote was scheduled for November 16.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Ankara last week to press the case for Sweden and Finland, saying their accession would “send a clear message to Russia”.

Stoltenberg stressed the two had agreed on concessions to Turkey in June, which included addressing its request for “terror suspects” to be deported or extradited.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told journalists on Monday he expected joining NATO would “happen in reasonable time”.

In August, Sweden announced it had decided to extradite to Turkey a man in his 30s who was wanted for fraud. The move was the first case since Turkey demanded collaboration on extraditions from Stockholm.

Turkey lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid in June after weeks of tense negotiations. Turkey has since expressed frustration over the lack of progress.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies