Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he would back Sweden’s NATO candidacy if the European Union resumes long-stalled membership talks with Ankara.
“First, open the way for Turkey’s membership in the European Union, and then we will open it for Sweden, just as we had opened it for Finland,” Erdogan said in a televised media appearance on Monday before departing for the NATO summit in Lithuania.
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The Turkish leader said he told the same thing to US President Joe Biden when the pair spoke by phone on Sunday.
Erdogan also said Sweden’s accession hinges on the implementation of a deal reached in June last year during the alliance’s summit in Madrid.
Turkey wants Sweden to crack down on groups that it considers national security threats, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Ankara considers the Syrian branch of the PKK.
Ankara also wants Stockholm to extradite suspects whom it calls “terrorists” and lift an arms ban it has imposed on Turkey. Erdogan said no one should expect compromises from his government.
Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year, abandoning their policies of military non-alignment due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. New members require approval from all NATO countries, and Finland was given the green light in April.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that while he supports Ankara’s EU membership, as far as he was concerned, Sweden had already met the conditions required to join NATO.
“It is still possible to have a positive decision on Sweden in Vilnius,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also said Turkey’s stance is a positive development.
“I hope that soon Sweden will be able to become a NATO member,” Scholz said in Berlin.
“This is what I’m taking as the positive message from the Turkish president’s comments.”
Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar, reporting from Istanbul, said Sweden argues that Turkey’s requests cannot be decided by the government’s executive branch but by the judiciary.
“However, Erdogan says that this is a security matter and, despite positive steps, PKK supporters still hold demonstrations [in Sweden] and this is not acceptable,” he said.
EU talks frozen
Turkey first applied to become a member of the European Economic Community, a predecessor to the EU, in 1987.
It became an EU candidate country in 1999 and formally launched membership negotiations with the bloc in 2005.
The talks stalled in 2016 over European concerns about human rights violations in Turkey.
“I would like to underline one reality,” Erdogan said. “Turkey has been waiting at the EU’s front door for 50 years.”
“Almost all the NATO members are EU members. I now am addressing these countries, which are making Turkey wait for more than 50 years, and I will address them again in Vilnius.”
Patrick Ruby, a defence analyst, said there is increasing pressure on Turkey from numerous parties in the military alliance led by Biden.
“It looks like so far Turkey has not shifted yet” towards backing Sweden’s membership, he told Al Jazeera.
“Of course, the longer they hold it, the more they can extract.”
The White House, which has also supported Turkey’s EU aspirations, said those discussions are a matter between Turkey and the bloc’s 27 members.
“Our focus is on Sweden, which is ready to join the NATO alliance,” a White House National Security Council spokesperson said.
A European Commission spokesperson said NATO and EU memberships were “separate processes” that “cannot be linked”.
Ankara’s delays on Sweden’s accession have exasperated other NATO allies, including the US.
On Sunday, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Biden and Erdogan had spoken about Sweden’s NATO membership and had agreed to meet in Vilnius for further talks.
He added that the White House is confident Sweden will join the alliance.
“If it happens after Vilnius – we’re confident it will happen,” he said.
“We don’t regard this as something that is fundamentally in doubt. This is a matter of timing. The sooner the better.”