Turkey agreed on Monday to clear the way for Sweden to join NATO, a sudden reversal just hours after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the European Union must first advance his country’s bid to join the EU bloc.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Turkey’s decision from Vilnius, Lithuania, where the alliance is preparing to open its annual summit on Tuesday.
Mr Stoltenberg said Mr Erdogan had lifted his objections to Sweden’s entry into the alliance and would take the country’s bid to his Parliament for ratification as soon as possible.
Instead, Sweden and Turkey will continue to work bilaterally against terrorism, Sweden would help revive Turkey’s application to enter the European Union, and NATO would establish a new “special coordinator for counter-terrorism”, he said.
The two countries agreed that “counter-terrorism cooperation is a long-term effort that will continue beyond Sweden’s accession to NATO”. declaration of the alliance said
“This is good for all of us,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “This is good for Sweden – Sweden will become a full member – and it is good for Turkey because Turkey is a NATO ally that will benefit from a stronger NATO.”
The statement said Mr Erdogan met on Monday with Mr Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of Sweden to discuss the country’s offer, which was held back by Turkey’s demands that Sweden crack down on dissidents Turkey considers terrorists. including pro-Kurdish activists. and members of a religious group that Turkey accused of plotting a coup in 2016.
“This was a good day for Sweden,” Mr Kristersson told reporters, saying the joint statement represented a “very big step” towards the final ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership.
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.
President Biden, who arrived in Vilnius on Monday, said in a statement that he welcomed Mr Erdogan’s commitment to present Sweden’s offer for “rapid ratification” by the Turkish parliament.
“I am ready to work with President Erdogan and Turkey to improve defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Mr Biden said. He also thanked Mr Stoltenberg for his “steadfast leadership” and added that he looked forward to welcoming Mr Kristersson and Sweden as the alliance’s 32nd member.
Mr. Erdogan’s demand for joining the EU – a day before the opening of the two-day NATO summit – appeared to have raised a new obstacle to the acceptance of Sweden, a major manufacturer of artillery, aircraft and other weapons with a decisive geographical value allowing to control the airspace over the Baltic Sea.
Sweden’s candidacy was expected to be a central issue at the meeting, where NATO leaders are expected to show their unity and resolve 16 months into Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Kiev has also sought to join the alliance – although leaders, including Mr Biden, have said that will have to wait until the end of the battle.
Turkey applied to join the European Union in 1987 but has made little progress in its bid since 2016, when the European Parliament voted to suspend accession talks while criticizing a sweeping Turkish government crackdown on political opponents following a failed coup against Mr Erdogan. .
“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 summit, referring to his country’s decision to drop objections to the application. . of Finland, which joined the alliance in April.
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year, after the invasion of Russia. At a NATO summit in Madrid last year, officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland outlined steps that would secure Turkey’s support – a crucial requirement, as all NATO nations must agree to accept new members.
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 arose last month when, 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 combat Islamophobia, even though there had been none. among the subjects that Sweden agreed with Turkey to address.
But the breakthrough ahead of the summit could mean that Sweden might join the alliance soon. Turkey’s parliament is in session until July 27, and the body needed just two weeks to approve Finland’s proposal after Mr Erdogan agreed to support it in March.
Ben Hubbard reported from Istanbul, and Lara Jakes and Steven Erlanger from Vilnius, Lithuania. Gulsin Harman contributed report form Istanbul, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.