Turkey set to approve Sweden’s NATO membership bid after long delay


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.

Turkey’s general assembly, where President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling alliance holds a majority, is set to vote on Sweden’s application about 20 months after Stockholm asked to join NATO 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 has said it believes NATO membership is “not a priority” for Sweden based on its actions. It had pledged not to be the last ally to ratify Sweden’s membership, but its parliament is in recess until around mid-February.

Turkey and Hungary maintain better relations with Russia than other members of the US-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.

The delay in securing Turkey’s approval has frustrated some of Ankara’s Western allies and enabled Turkey to extract some concessions.

Delay over ratification

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

Turkey 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 US approval of sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

The White House backs the sale, though there is no clear time frame for the US Congress to approve it and Turkey faces some congressional opposition over delaying NATO enlargement and its human rights record.

Turkey’s general assembly is set to convene at 1200 GMT, with Sweden expected to be among the first of dozens of 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.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli said on Tuesday his party would continue backing Sweden’s bid in the general assembly vote.__Tribune.com