Nato: Sweden taking 'important steps' to meet Turkish demands

Jens Stoltenberg says terrorism and arms exports are key issues in negotiations

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a rowing boat at a Swedish government retreat. EPA
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Nato welcomed on Monday what it said were “important steps” by Sweden to answer Turkish objections which are holding up its application to join the military alliance.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said tougher counter-terrorism laws and a hint that a weapons embargo against Turkey could be lifted were signs that Sweden was willing to take on the responsibilities of Nato membership.

Mr Stoltenberg said he was working to find consensus between Turkey, Sweden and fellow applicant Finland as soon as possible but would not be drawn on whether this could happen before an end-June summit in Madrid.

The two Nordic countries applied to join Nato last month after Russia's invasion of Ukraine sent a chill of fear across the Baltic Sea.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, who met Mr Stoltenberg at her summer retreat on Monday, said she took seriously Turkey's concerns about terrorism.

These relate mainly to what Turkey sees as Sweden and Finland's soft stance towards the PKK, a Kurdish group designated as terrorists by the European Union, and what it says are unfair export restrictions on weapons.

A Swedish government agency decided in 2019 to revoke all licences for arms exports to Turkey because of the offensive in northern Syria ordered that year by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has delayed Sweden and Finland's accession to Nato. AP

But Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde told MPs last week that joining Nato “may also change the conditions for the export of defence equipment”, without directly referring to Turkey.

On Monday, Ms Andersson said Sweden had also underlined its commitment to fighting terrorism and that tougher legislation on the subject would soon come into force.

“These are two important steps to address concerns Turkey has raised,” said Mr Stoltenberg, who has sought to broker a compromise and been at pains not to dismiss Ankara's objections, despite his support for Sweden and Finland.

He said addressing Turkey's concerns was part of assuming the obligations of future Nato membership, which guarantees that allies will come to the aid of any member under attack.

“By joining Nato, Sweden will get the formalised, treaty security guarantees,” he said. “At the same time, Sweden will take on, as all other members take on, the responsibilities and obligations of being a Nato ally.”

Sweden turned a page on 200 years of military neutrality to apply for membership, after deeming the European Union's fledgling defence structures insufficient compared to the US-backed power of Nato.

The accession of Sweden and Finland must be approved by all 30 existing allies, giving Turkey an effective veto. There have also been doubts over Croatia's position after a spat between its president and prime minister.

However, Mr Stoltenberg said it was unthinkable that Nato members would sit back if there were an attack on Sweden during the negotiations. Britain and the US have provided explicit guarantees of support.

Ms Andersson made a point of referring to Turkey by its chosen new moniker, Türkiye, although she suggested the Swedish legislation on arms exports had been misinterpreted.

She said she would tell the Madrid summit this month that Sweden had “a lot to offer” the alliance, including a stronger presence in the Baltic region.

Nato last week began two-week naval drills in the Baltic with Sweden and Finland as guests, involving 7,000 troops and 45 warships. Mr Stoltenberg visited Finland at the weekend.

Updated: June 13, 2022, 3:31 PM