Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to back Sweden’s bid to join NATO after a year of blocking the move, citing Turkish security concerns.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Monday that Erdogan agreed to forward Sweden’s membership bid to Turkey’s parliament.
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After talks in Vilnius, Lithuania, with Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Stoltenberg said Turkey had agreed to move forward.
“I’m glad to announce … President Erdogan has agreed to forward the accession protocol for Sweden to the Grand National Assembly as soon as possible and work closely with the assembly to ensure ratification,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference.
“This is a historic day.”
NATO membership requires the approval of all of the military alliance’s members. Turkey has held up Sweden’s NATO accession since last year, accusing Stockholm of harbouring Kurdish activists Ankara regards as “terrorists”.
A series of demonstrations in Stockholm, including stunts by anti-Islam activists who burned the Quran, also angered Turkish officials.
A joint statement issued after three-way talks stated Turkey and Sweden would work closely on “counterterrorism coordination” and boost trade ties.
‘At the gates of the EU’
Earlier on Monday, Erdogan had upped the stakes further by demanding that the European Union revive Turkey’s stalled membership bid as a condition for Sweden to join NATO.
The surprise announcement by Erdogan before departing for a NATO summit in Lithuania’s capital added new uncertainty to Sweden’s bid to become the alliance’s 32nd member.
It was the first time that Erdogan linked his country’s ambition to join the EU with Sweden’s efforts to become a NATO member.
“Turkey has been waiting at the door of the European Union for over 50 years now, and almost all of the NATO member countries are now members of the European Union,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul.
“I am making this call to these countries that have kept Turkey waiting at the gates of the European Union for more than 50 years. Come and open the way for Turkey’s membership in the European Union. When you pave the way for Turkey, we’ll pave the way for Sweden as we did for Finland.”
US President Joe Biden praised “the commitment” by Erdogan on Sweden’s NATO bid.
“I stand ready to work with President Erdogan and Türkiye on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area. I look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Kristersson and Sweden as our 32nd NATO Ally. And I thank Secretary General Stoltenberg for his steadfast leadership,” a White House statement said.
Finland’s Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen told Al Jazeera her country, which became a member in April, had been lobbying for its neighbour’s bid to also be ratified.
“Our membership is not complete without Sweden,” Valtonen said.
Finland applied in May 2022 alongside neighbouring Sweden as fears of Russian aggression rose in northern Europe following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.