Sweden has said Turkey is demanding concessions that Stockholm cannot give to approve its application to join Nato as the prime minister insisted the country had done all it could to meet Ankara’s concerns.
Ulf Kristersson, the new centre-right leader, on Sunday threw down the gauntlet to Turkey in the clearest indication yet from Stockholm that it could no do no more to help persuade Turkey to drop its opposition to Sweden and neighbouring Finland joining the western military alliance.
“Turkey confirms that we have done what we said we would do. But they also say that they want things that we can’t and won’t give them. So the decision is now with Turkey,” Kristersson told a Swedish defence conference.
Sweden’s new government has said that joining Nato is its top priority, and its application has been approved by 28 of the alliance’s 30 members. But Hungary — whose parliament is expected to ratify Sweden and Finland’s membership bids in the coming weeks — and Turkey have yet to do so.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly accused Sweden of harbouring Kurdish terrorists and alleged members of an Islamic sect blamed for a 2016 abortive coup.
Erdoğan has singled out one journalist — Bülent Keneş, a former editor-in-chief of the Today’s Zaman daily — and demanded his deportation over his alleged role in the coup attempt. Sweden’s Supreme Court in December rejected the extradition request, ruling that Keneş risked persecution for his political views in Turkey.
Stockholm has made a number of concessions to Ankara, including distancing itself from a Kurdish militia, lifting an embargo on weapons exports to Turkey and stressing it would work to combat terrorism.
Kristersson said on Sunday that Stockholm was living up to commitments it made at Nato’s Madrid summit last July, but that it had to follow the law on deportations, which is a judicial process in Sweden with no role for the government.
Turkey’s foreign ministry did not immediately return a request for comment.
Opinion polls have shown Swedes do not favour offering too many concessions to Turkey: in a survey for daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter last week, 79 per cent said they wanted Sweden to stand up for the rule of law — even if that delayed its Nato membership.
Asked if Turkey would ratify Sweden’s membership before its presidential elections in June, Kristersson said it was “impossible to know”.
Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s foreign minister, said it looked unlikely that Turkey would ratify membership for the two countries before the elections, leaving the Nato summit in Vilnius in July as the next possible deadline.
Speaking at the same event on Sunday, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg did not directly reference Turkey’s block on the process but said he was “happy that the agreement [with Ankara] has been followed through”. He was “confident that we will soon be able to warmly welcome [Sweden and Finland] as full members of Nato”, he said.
Both countries’ membership “erases grey areas, strengthens the political community and . . . will make us all safer”, Stoltenberg said.
The Nato chief has staked his personal credibility on the membership process, having taken a personal role in striking the tripartite deal with Erdoğan last summer, travelling to meet the Turkish leader to urge him to lift his block on ratification.
But on Sunday, he signalled that regardless of the process, the two applicants were already being treated as members in a host of areas, including the alliance’s mutual defence clause. “It is inconceivable that Nato would not act if the security of Sweden and Finland was threatened,” he added.
Kristersson also outlined Sweden’s potential military contribution to Nato once it became a member. The country would take part in Nato air policing missions in the Baltic states, Black Sea and Iceland, he said. Sweden would also seek to join the European Sky Shield Initiative, a German-led plan to create a continental air and missile defence system.
Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul