Turkey agrees to back Sweden's bid to join Nato

Ankara agrees to forward bid to parliament for approval after breakthrough talks in Lithuania

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson as Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on in Vilnius, Lithuania. AP
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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to forward Sweden's application to join Nato to his country's parliament for approval, the alliance's head Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.

The agreement came after a late-night breakthrough on the deadlocked issue, which flared up shortly after Sweden and Finland jointly applied for Nato membership following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.

After Mr Erdogan and Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson held talks in Vilnius, Mr Stoltenberg said Turkey had agreed to move forward on the accession process. The announcement means Sweden is back on track to become the bloc's 32nd member.

“This is a historic day,” the Nato Secretary General said. The Turkish leader thanked Mr Stoltenberg and the Swedish leader, whom Mr Erdogan said had worked hard to pull together the draft deal secured at the meeting.

US President Joe Biden swiftly welcomed the statement that Mr Erdogan would put the Swedish accession to the Grand National Assembly for ratification.

“I stand ready to work with President Erdogan and [Turkey] on enhancing defence and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Mr Biden said.

“I look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Kristersson and Sweden as our 32nd Nato ally.”

Sweden’s Nato accession had been held up by objections from Turkey while Finland was able to complete its accession as the 31st member in April this year.

The Swedish government increased prosecutions of activists tied to Kurdish separatist movements – something Ankara insisted on – but faced setbacks as radical fringe groups staged demonstrations that included desecrations of the Quran.

After Mr Erdogan's recent re-election as Turkey's president, there were hopes that diplomacy would produce an agreement at the Vilnius summit.

In meetings on arrival in the Lithuanian capital, Mr Erdogan met Nato and Swedish leaders as well as European Council President Charles Michel, as frantic efforts came to a head.

A Turkish official said they had received assurances on key demands, including Stockholm’s approach to supporters of Kurdish separatists operating in its territory.

A Nato statement revealed the alliance would expand it counter-terrorism remit, including the appointment of the first Special Co-ordinator for Counter-Terrorism. Bilateral undertakings with Sweden were also laid out in an annual Security Compact summit.

“Sweden will present a road map as the basis of its continued fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations towards the full implementation of all elements,” it said.

The breakthrough, which followed months of arduous negotiations, came hours before a Nato leaders summit in Lithuania, where alliance members had originally hoped to be able to welcome Sweden as a new member.

The Swedish Prime Minister expressed relief that the issue had been resolved in pre-summit negotiations.

“This feels very good, this has been my aim for a long time, and I believe we had a very fine response today and took a very big step towards membership,” Mr Kristersson said after his talks with Mr Erdogan.

A statement after the three-way talks stated that Turkey and Sweden would work closely to boost bilateral trade ties and Turkey's wider European agenda.

“Sweden will actively support efforts to reinvigorate [Turkey's] EU accession process, including modernisation of the EU-Turkiye Customs Union and visa liberalisation,” the statement said.

Mr Michel said the talks with the Turkish leader had led to progress on how to revive Ankara's pathway to EU membership, and that crucial steps would be made in the coming weeks to see better progress.

Officials close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, another holdout on Sweden's membership bid, said Budapest would no longer block ratification, so Turkish approval would remove the last hurdle.

Mr Biden spoke to Mr Erdogan from Air Force One on the way to the Nato meeting and disclosed that he was offering some trade-offs that met Turkish needs, as well as those of neighbouring Greece.

“Turkey is looking for modernisation of F-16 aircraft,” he told CNN. “And [Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos] Mitsotakis in Greece is also looking for some help.

“What I’m trying to, quite frankly, put together is a little bit of a consortium here, where we’re strengthening Nato in terms of military capacity of both Greece as well as Turkey, and allow Sweden to come in. But it’s in play. It’s not done.”

Turkey requested in October 2021 to purchase $20 billion of Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighters and nearly 80 modernisation kits for its existing warplanes.

Nato through the years – in pictures

The Nato summit will also be attended by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, who met Mr Erdogan last Friday.

During the meeting, the two Black Sea nations reportedly agreed that an arrangement to carry the country's grain crops out of Ukrainian ports would continue under Turkish naval protection.

Russia has been warning it would pull out of the UN-sponsored grain deal.

Officials confirmed that Nato allies were ready to drop the requirement that Kyiv complete a “Membership Action Plan”, a kind of road map to military reform that some allies have had to follow.

US officials confirmed a meeting of the Nato-Ukraine Council would be held at the level of heads of state and government, with Sweden, on Wednesday.

Mr Zelenskyy sent a message stating that Nato must find the specific words of confirmation that Ukraine was already a de facto part of the alliance in the closing communique.

“Our values are what the alliance believes in,” he declared. “Our defence is the very element of the formula of Europe that makes it united, free and peaceful. Vilnius must confirm all this.”

Updated: July 11, 2023, 6:45 AM