ISTANBUL – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that the European Union must clear the way for Turkey to join the bloc before Turkey will allow Sweden to join NATO, adding a surprising new condition that could further slow the military alliance’s efforts to expand .
Mr Erdogan’s latest demand came a day before the opening of NATO’s two-day annual summit, where leaders, including President Biden, hoped to secure unanimous approval from member states to allow Sweden to become the 32nd member.
That outcome now looks increasingly unlikely, with Mr Erdogan posing the main obstacle to Sweden’s membership.
“First, clear the way for Turkey in the European Union, then we will clear the way for Sweden as we did for Finland,” Mr Erdogan told reporters before traveling to the NATO summit.
It was not immediately clear how leaders of the European Union or NATO would respond to the new demand, especially since they are separate organizations with many overlapping members but different goals. Turkey applied to join the European Union in 1987, but the process has been slow, with almost no progress since 2016.
Sweden applied to join NATO last year, after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. All NATO nations must agree to admit new members, a rule that has given Mr. Erdogan enormous leverage to demand concessions.
Turkey has accused Sweden of providing a permissive environment for dissidents that Turkey considers terrorists, including pro-Kurdish activists and members of a religious group that Turkey has accused of planning a failed coup against Mr Erdogan in 2016.
In recent months, Sweden has sought to comply with Turkey’s demands, amending its constitution, passing new anti-terrorism legislation and agreeing to extradite several Turks who are accused of crimes in Turkey. But Swedish courts have blocked other extraditions, and Swedish officials have said they cannot override their country’s free speech protections.
Mr. Erdogan continued to say that Sweden must do more.
A new complication emerged late last month after a man publicly burned a Koran at a protest in Stockholm during a major Muslim holiday. Mr Erdogan criticized Sweden for allowing the protest and said the Swedish authorities needed to fight Islamophobia, although this was not among the issues Sweden had agreed with Turkey to address.
Hungary is the only other NATO member that has not yet approved Sweden’s offer, but Hungarian officials have said that if Turkey’s position changes, they would not obstruct the process. Finland applied at the same time as Sweden, but overcame Turkey’s initial objections and joined the alliance in April.
By linking Turkey’s bid to join the European Union with Sweden’s accession to NATO, Mr Erdogan threw another wrench into the alliance’s talks less than 24 hours before NATO leaders are expected to gather in Vilnius, Lithuania, for their annual summit. On Sunday, President Biden spoke with Mr. Erdogan and told him of “his desire to welcome Sweden into NATO as soon as possible,” according to a brief account of the call provided by the White House.
Before traveling to the summit, Mr Erdogan said again on Monday that Sweden could not wait to join until it had met all of Turkey’s demands related to terrorism.
“No one should expect compromise or understanding from me,” he said.