Turkey Is Unlikely to Sign Off on Swedish NATO Bid This Year

(Bloomberg) -- Turkey is unlikely to sign off on Sweden’s bid for NATO membership before the end of the year, and the chances of this happening even before elections due next year are slim, according to officials familiar with the issue.

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Sweden hasn’t done enough to meet Turkish demands and the Turkish parliament’s agenda is full for the rest of the year, said the officials, who asked not to be named while speaking about a confidential matter. Turkey is happy with cooperation from Finland which has also applied to join the alliance, but plans to vote on both applications simultaneously, they said.

With Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, visiting Turkey for several days of meetings, Ankara insists on solid steps especially from Sweden, according to the officials. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is keen to consolidate the votes of nationalists in the run-up to elections, which are currently scheduled for June, they said. The vote may be held earlier.

The Turkish government doesn’t plan to seek parliament’s ratification of Sweden’s membership unless it meets existing demands to crack down on Kurdish separatists, extradite suspects and fully lifts restrictions on arms sales to Ankara, said the officials.

Sweden, along with Finland, signed a deal with Turkey in June pledging to meet its security demands and assuage concerns about their membership to NATO.

“It is not possible to say that all elements in the memorandum are fully implemented yet by both countries,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said at a joint news conference with Stoltenberg after their meeting. “We are not there to hamper NATO, we are not there to hamper NATO enlargement.”

Stoltenberg said Finland and Sweden have delivered on their agreement with Turkey. The alliance chief will also meet with Erdogan and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, along with other senior officials, during his visit that lasts until Saturday.

Stronger, Safer

“It’s time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO,” Stoltenberg said. “Their accession will make our alliance stronger and our people safer.”

Turkey and Hungary are the only two NATO allies that have not yet signed off on membership for the two Nordic countries, which applied after Russia invaded Ukraine. All alliance members need to ratify the bids before the two can join. While Hungary has moved slowly relative to other members, it may vote on the enlargement by the end of the year.

“Of course we will support it the moment when it comes before parliament, we hope this will happen as soon as possible,” Hungarian Deputy Defense Minister Tamas Vargha told Telex news website in a report published Thursday. He was referring to legislation to ratify Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO, which the government submitted in July.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban wields a super majority in parliament and Hungary’s government has dragged its feet on the applications.

Sweden’s new Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will visit Turkey next week. Kristersson, who took office last month, has repeatedly said that his country will honor the agreement with Turkey, and cooperate on fighting terrorism. The Nordic countries’ leaders have repeatedly said they seek to enter the alliance together.

Stoltenberg’s talks come as Turkey has negotiated with Russia to enable grain to continue flowing from Ukraine’s ports. Moscow suspended its participation in the Black Sea grain-export deal over the weekend, only to return to it after it said it received written guarantees from Ukraine.

Turkey has cautioned its NATO allies on supplying arms to Ukraine, fearing that retaliatory attacks by Russia could further deepen the war and is expected to relay its concerns once again to Stoltenberg.

--With assistance from Zoltan Simon and Kati Pohjanpalo.

(Updates with comments at news conference starting in sixth paragraph.)

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