Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday ignored mounting international pressure on Ankara to ratify Sweden’s request for membership in NATO, about four weeks before a meeting of the defense bloc to be held in July.
Western officials were counting on softening the position of the Turkish president on this issue, for which several diplomatic efforts made to find a settlement, after he won a new presidential term last month in fiercely contested elections.
However, nothing tangible changed Erdogan’s position, according to a statement issued by his office while Turkish and Swedish officials were conducting negotiations for the last quarter of an hour in Ankara.
The Turkish president said, “Sweden has expectations, but this doesn’t mean that we will meet them… In order for us to meet these expectations, Sweden must first play its role”.
Sweden and Finland put an end to the decades-old policy of military neutrality and requested membership in NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
This year, NATO members Türkiye and Hungary approved Finland’s request to join the bloc.
The parliaments of the two countries haven’t yet ratified Sweden’s accession to the alliance.
Any new country’s membership in NATO requires the unanimous approval of the bloc’s countries to the request.
US President Joe Biden urged his Turkish counterpart to agree to Sweden’s accession to the bloc during a phone conversation that took place between them the day after Erdoğan won a new term that will keep him as president of Türkiye until 2028.
Ankara hopes that the US Congress will approve a major defense package that would modernize Türkiye’s aging fleet of combat aircraft.
For the first time, Biden directly linked the sale of F16 fighters to Türkiye and Ankara’s approval of Sweden’s accession to NATO.
After the phone conversation, Biden said in a statement to reporters, “Erdoğan still wants to work on the F16 aircraft deal… I told him we want an agreement with Sweden so let’s make it happen”.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also personally discussed the matter with Erdoğan in Istanbul, a few weeks before a summit of the bloc to be hosted by Lithuania.
Erdoğan indicated that Stoltenberg’s visit coincided with protests organized in Stockholm by Kurdish supporters of a group that Ankara considers a terrorist organization.
Türkiye is seeking to push Sweden towards banning and suppressing such demonstrations.
“There are rights given to Swedish law enforcement agencies under the constitution,” Erdogan said.
Use these rights… If you don’t deal with it, we can’t say yes at the summit in Vilnius” scheduled for July 11-12.
Sweden has already taken a series of measures aimed at responding to Türkiye’s concerns.
It deported a Kurdish militant supporter convicted of drug trafficking who had been arrested in August last year.
This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Türkiye has raised some of its concerns.
Finland and Sweden have dealt with Turkish concerns, and we consider that these concerns have been dealt with appropriately and effectively.
On Wednesday, talks were held in Ankara that resulted in an agreement to hold a new meeting between Türkiye, Sweden and Finland, the date of which hasn’t been announced.
Stoltenberg said in a statement he made to reporters in Brussels that he had spoken with his senior aide who attended the meeting, and that the latter informed him that the meeting took place in a constructive atmosphere.
“There is progress being made, and we will continue to work towards ratification of Sweden’s membership as soon as possible,” he added.
The Turkish parliament reconvened after a pause during the elections, and the parliamentary session scheduled to remain open until the date of the Vilnius summit.
The Hungarian Parliament extended until July 7 its current session, which scheduled to end Thursday.
The focus of this extraordinary summer session is officially on approving the general budget, but it may expand its scope to include the ratification of Sweden’s membership in NATO.
Both Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Erdogan maintain good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Preparations made in the Hungarian parliament for a session to ratify Finland’s membership in the bloc, shortly after Erdoğan raised his objection to the matter in March.