Sweden warns it cannot meet Turkey’s demands to back NATO offer

Sweden has said Turkey is demanding concessions Stockholm cannot give to approve its application to join NATO, as the prime minister insisted the country had done everything possible to satisfy Ankara’s concerns.

Ulf Kristersson, the new center-right leader, threw down the gauntlet to Turkey on Sunday in the clearest signal yet from Stockholm that he could do no more to help persuade Turkey to drop your opposition Sweden and neighboring Finland joining the Western military alliance.

“Turkey confirms that we have done what we said we would do. But they also say they want things that we can’t and won’t give them. So the decision is now up to Turkey,” Kristersson told a Swedish defense conference.

Sweden’s new government has said 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 the membership bids of Sweden and Finland in the coming weeks, and Turkey have yet to do so.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly accused Sweden of harboring Kurdish terrorists and suspected members of an Islamic sect blamed for the failed 2016 coup.

Erdoğan has singled out a journalist, Bülent Keneş, former editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman newspaper, and demanded his deportation for his alleged role in the attempted coup. Sweden’s Supreme Court rejected the extradition request in December, ruling that Keneş risked persecution for his political views in Turkey.

Stockholm has made a number of concessions to Ankara, including distancing from a Kurdish militia, lifting the embargo on arms exports to Turkey and emphasizing that it would work to combat terrorism.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at the security conference on Sunday © Henrik Montgomery/AFP/Getty Images

Kristersson said on Sunday that Stockholm was honoring commitments it made at the NATO summit in Madrid last July, but had to comply with deportation law, which is a judicial process in Sweden with no role for the government.

Turkey’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Opinion polls have shown that Swedes are not in favor of offering too many concessions to Turkey: in a poll by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper last week, 79 percent said they wanted Sweden to stand up for the rule of law, even if it delayed its membership in NATO.

Asked if Turkey would ratify Sweden’s membership before the June presidential election, Kristersson said it was “impossible to know.”

Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s foreign minister, said it seemed unlikely that Turkey would ratify the two countries’ membership before the election, 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 address Turkey’s blockade in the process, but said he was “happy that the agreement [with Ankara] has been followed.” He was “sure that soon we will be able to warmly receive [Sweden and Finland] as full members of NATO,” he said.

Membership from both countries “erases gray areas, strengthens the political community and . . . it will make us all safer,” Stoltenberg said.

The NATO chief has staked his personal credibility on the accession process, having taken a personal role in achieving the tripartite deal with Erdoğan last summer, and traveled to meet the Turkish leader to urge him to lift his blockade on the ratification.

But on Sunday he noted that regardless of the process, the two applicants were already being treated as members in a number of areas, including the alliance’s mutual defense clause. “It is inconceivable that NATO will not act if the security of Sweden and Finland is threatened,” he added.

Kristersson also outlined Sweden’s possible military contribution to NATO once it becomes a member. The country will participate in NATO air surveillance missions in the Baltic states, the 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 defense system.

Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul

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