NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday increased pressure on Turkey to give the green light to Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, saying during a visit to Istanbul that Stockholm and Helsinki “have kept their promises” and should be allowed to enter.
Turkish, Finnish and Swedish officials signed a memorandum in June to pave the way for the two countries to address Turkish concerns over terrorism and arms exports, but Turkey – along with Hungary – has yet to sign. his membership.
The delay has raised questions about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political strategy and whether he is using the issue of NATO membership as a bargaining chip in Ankara’s complex relations with the United States, as well as to bolster his own popularity at home.
Rhetoric from Turkish officials about the need to clamp down on “terrorism” has also fueled frustration among some Western officials who say Ankara may be using the term to try to suppress criticism.
“I recognize your concerns,” Stoltenberg told a news conference alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. “At the same time,” he said, “it is clear that Finland and Sweden have respected the memorandum and are committed to a long-term partnership with Turkey.”
The NATO chief said Sweden and Finland had taken “major concrete steps” to implement the deal with Turkey, including stepping up cooperation on counter-terrorism.
“Sweden is in the process of adopting new legislation prohibiting participation in terrorist organizations, including the PKK, and strengthening the tools for financing terrorism – more extraditions and deportations are taking place, and restrictions on the arms sales to Turkey have ended,” he said.
Helsinki and Stockholm, he said, have done their part, and “so it is time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO.”
Çavuşoğlu, Turkey’s foreign minister, acknowledged Sweden and Finland had made progress, but said more needed to be done.
“Some steps have indeed been taken,” the minister said, stressing that the lifting of the Swedish arms embargo was an “important step”.
“But not all components, all points of the memorandum are fully implemented by these countries,” he said, according to an interpreter.
“We are not here to hinder NATO enlargement,” Çavuşoğlu added. “We would like to see these two countries take concrete action against terrorism,” he said, noting that the announcements of the new Swedish government “have been received very positively.”
Stoltenberg is expected to discuss the issue with Erdoğan on Friday. The new Swedish Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, is also expected to visit Turkey next week for talks on the accession process.
“In these dangerous times,” Stoltenberg told reporters, “it is even more important to finalize their membership, to avoid any misunderstandings or miscalculations in Moscow – and to send a clear message to Russia that the door of NATO remains open”.