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Turkey's leader will work to approve Sweden's NATO bid ASAP, the alliance's head says

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson shake hands in front of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg prior to their meeting, on the eve of a NATO summit, in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Monday.
Yves Herman
/
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (left) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson shake hands in front of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg prior to their meeting, on the eve of a NATO summit, in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Monday.

Updated July 11, 2023 at 10:49 AM ET

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey's leader has agreed to secure swift Turkish parliament approval of Sweden's bid to join the defense alliance, in a breakthrough after Turkey has blocked the Nordic country's entry for over a year.

Stoltenberg announced the news after meeting Monday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. "I'm glad to announce that, as a result, 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 in a news conference.

President Biden quickly issued a statement following the talks, saying he's "ready to work" with Turkey on enhanced defense and looks forward to "welcoming Prime Minister Kristersson and Sweden as our 32nd NATO Ally."

Sweden applied, alongside Finland, to join the world's biggest military alliance in May last year, abandoning longtime policies of remaining outside NATO because of heightened security fears sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Nearly all other members of the alliance approved, but Turkey has held up Sweden's NATO membership since then, citing concerns about militants Turkey says are present in Sweden.

But in a surprise move earlier Monday, Erdogan said his government could approve Sweden's bid to join NATO if European countries also "open the way"for Turkey to join the European Union.

The European Commission, however, said those are two completely separate tracks. Commission spokesperson Dana Spinant told reporters "you cannot link the two processes."

While Erdogan's about-face on Sweden's NATO membership took observers by surprise, analysts say it was not out of the ordinary for Turkey's leader.

"It is abrupt but it's also part of a pattern," Daniel Fata, a former senior U.S. defense official on Europe and NATO, told NPR's Michel Martin. "If you look at the past few summits, President Erdogan has been a holdout for many things and he uses this as a negotiating tactic."

In addition to the EU pathway, Fata pointed out Erdogan has wanted more advanced F-16 fighter jets — even though Turkey's government has publicly insisted the planes are not a condition for allowing Sweden into NATO.

On Tuesday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration will move forward with transferring F-16s to Turkey in consultation with Congress, Reuters reported.

Fata added that both Finland and Sweden, once it joins, will bring a lot of immediate defense capability and "an understanding of how Russia operates" to NATO.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Alex Leff is a digital editor on NPR's International Desk, helping oversee coverage from journalists around the world for its growing Internet audience. He was previously a senior editor at GlobalPost and PRI, where he wrote stories and edited the work of international correspondents.