Turkey: Erdogan to discuss NATO bid with Sweden’s new leader

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he has agreed to meet with Sweden’s new prime minister in Ankara to discuss the Scandinavian country’s bid to join NATO, describing the visit as an opportunity to test Stockholm’s “sincerity” in meeting Turkey’s conditions.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden abandoned a longstanding policy of military nonalignment and applied for NATO membership this year together with neighboring Finland. Turkey, already a member of the military alliance, threatened to block the process.

Erdogan’s government placed a series of demands on Stockholm, in particular to crack down on Kurdish groups that Ankara accuses of terrorism and considers to be national security threats.

Erdogan told a group of reporters Thursday upon his return from a trip to Azerbaijan that Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson had made comments “in favor of the fight against terrorism and terrorists.” The Turkish leader said he accepted Kristersson’s request to visit the Turkish capital.

“Of course, we will test their sincerity on this issue during this visit,” Erdogan said in comments quoted by Turkish media on Friday.

NATO operates by consensus, so Sweden and Finland need Turkey’s approval to join. The parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify their accession.

“Our stance has not changed,” Erdogan said. “There is no compromise in the fight against terrorism and we have no intention of making any concessions.”

Meanwhile, Sweden’s new foreign minister, Tobias Billstrom, said the government “attaches the highest priority to our NATO accession.” He described a possible meeting between Kristersson and Erdogan as positive news.

“We believe that close dialogue and close consultations with all the three parties of this trial memorandum is the way forward,” said Billstrom said, who met his Finnish counterpart, Pekka Haavisto, in Helsinki on Friday.

Last month, Sweden announced it would lift an arms embargo it imposed on Turkey in 2019 following a Turkish military operation against the Kurdish militia YPG in Syria. The move was widely seen as a step aimed at securing Ankara’s approval for Sweden’s NATO membership.

“We believe that everything will lead to what we expect: namely, the ratification of and by the Turkish parliament,” Billstrom said.

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