Ankara will ratify Sweden’s application to join NATO, but only if the European Union commences membership talks for Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on Monday.
The Turkish president offered the remarks at Istanbul airport on Monday before departing for the NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on July 11-12.
“First, let’s clear Turkey’s way in the European Union, then let’s clear the way for Sweden, just as we paved the way for Finland,” Erdoğan told press.
He emphasized that “Turkey has been waiting at the gate of the European Union for over 50 years now,” and “almost all NATO member countries are European member countries.”
Ankara has been hesitant in ratifying Sweden’s bid to join the defense alliance which has now been pending since March last year. Ongoing disputes between the countries with particular regard to the Swedish government’s allowance of anti-Islam protests and anti-Erdoğan demonstrations in Stockholm, some of which have involved the burning of the Islamic holy book, the Quran.
Turkey also believes that Sweden has been harboring individuals deemed to be terrorists by the Erdoğan administration and has lobbied for reforms to Sweden’s anti-terror laws.
As well as Turkey, Hungary has also so far not ratified Sweden’s NATO application.
Following Erdoğan’s remarks, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg appeared to be willing to accommodate Ankara’s request.
“I support Turkey’s ambition to join the EU,” he told a press conference in Vilnius, adding that there could still be a breakthrough on Sweden’s membership bid at this week’s NATO summit despite Turkish and Hungarian reticence.
“We are working hard to make Sweden a member as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said.
Some EU leaders, however, were less convinced, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who told journalists on Monday that the issues of Turkey’s EU membership and Sweden’s NATO bid should not be linked.
“It is an issue that is not related to the other, so I don’t think they should be mixed up,” he told press in Berlin.
Erdoğan is expected to meet with both Stoltenerg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson later on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s summit to discuss the ongoing situation.
“We will have a three-man discussion and then we will simply take it from there. It will be an important and first good conversation, I think,” Kristersson told the Expressen newspaper.