Turkey set to approve Sweden’s NATO membership bid


Sweden's NATO membership

ANKARA: Turkey’s parliament is widely expected to approve Sweden’s NATO membership bid on Tuesday, clearing the biggest remaining hurdle to expanding the Western military alliance after 20 months of delays.

Turkey’s general assembly, where President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling alliance holds a majority, is set to vote on the application that Sweden first made in 2022 following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Once parliament has ratified the move, Erdogan would be expected to sign it into law within days, leaving Hungary as the only member state not to have approved Sweden’s accession.

Hungary had pledged not to be the last ally to ratify, but its parliament is in recess till around mid-February. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Tuesday he invited his Swedish counterpart to visit and negotiate his country joining the bloc.

“I don’t see any reason to negotiate in the current situation, though … we can have a dialogue and continue to discuss questions,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Swedish news agency TT.

Sweden’s government had no comment on Turkey’s parliamentary process.

Turkey and Hungary maintain better relations with Russia than other members of the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

While opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has criticised Western sanctions on Moscow, which has cautioned that it would respond if NATO bolstered military infrastructure in the two Nordic states.

Sweden, whose membership bid marked a historic shift in its security policy, would enhance NATO defences in the Baltic Sea region. Ankara’s delays have frustrated some of its Western allies and enabled it to extract some concessions.

DELAY

When Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO in 2022, Turkey surprised some members in raising objections over what it said was the two countries’ protection of groups that Ankara deems terrorists.

It endorsed Finland’s membership in April last year but, along with Hungary, has kept Sweden waiting. Ankara had urged Stockholm to toughen its stance on local members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the European Union and United States also deem a terrorist group.

In response, Stockholm introduced a new anti-terrorism bill that makes being a member of a terrorist organisation illegal. Sweden, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands also took steps to relax Turkey arms-export policies.

Erdogan, who sent Sweden’s bid to parliament in October, has linked Sweden’s ratification to U.S. approval of sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

The White House backs the sale and some analysts expect a deal to swiftly follow Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s bid. But there is no clear time frame for the U.S. Congress to approve it, and Turkey faces some congressional opposition over delaying NATO enlargement and its human rights record.

Turkey’s general assembly convened at 1200 GMT, with Sweden among the first of several matters to be debated.

Parliament’s foreign affairs commission approved the bid last month, with Erdogan’s ruling AK Party, nationalist allies MHP, and main opposition CHP backing it. Opposition nationalist and Islamist parties rejected it.

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