Swedish foreign minister says country closing in on NATO membership approval

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström speaks during a news conference at the U.S. State Department in Washington on Dec. 8, 2022. (Cliff Owen/The Associated Press - image credit)
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström speaks during a news conference at the U.S. State Department in Washington on Dec. 8, 2022. (Cliff Owen/The Associated Press - image credit)

Sweden's foreign minister says his country is inching closer to having its NATO application ratified by one of the military alliance's last holdouts.

Twenty-eight of NATO's 30 current members have ratified both Sweden and Finland's requests for membership since the two Scandinavian countries submitted formal applications in May. Canada was the first to ratify the requests.

But Turkey — along with Hungary — has yet to approve the bids. The Turkish government has said Sweden in particular needs to crack down on Kurdish and other groups that Ankara considers terrorists.

New NATO memberships must be approved by all current member states.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Tobias Billström told CBC News Network's Rosemary Barton Live in an interview airing Sunday that the sticking points with Turkey are nearly resolved.

WATCH | Swedish foreign minister discusses NATO bid:

"We are now very close to the moment in time when it is time for the Turkish parliament to start the ratification process," Billström told host Rosemary Barton.

Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed a trilateral memorandum at the NATO summit in June that laid out a path for the Turkish government to sign off on the two applications.

Billström said that his country has "thoroughly" upheld its part of that agreement, but he noted that its provisions must fall in line with Sweden's constitution following recent push-back from Turkey.

Pro-Kurdish and anti-NATO groups have complicated matters for the Swedish government by staging anti-Turkey demonstrations that have infuriated the Turkish government, including an effigy of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that was briefly hung outside Stockholm's city hall earlier this month.

The Turkish government has called for an investigation of the protest, saying it amounted to racism and a hate crime. Prosecutors in Sweden have thus far said they won't open an investigation.

WATCH | Senior adviser to Ukrainian military discusses conflict:

On Saturday, Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar cancelled a visit by his Swedish counterpart scheduled for later in the month, citing what he described as "disgusting" anti-Turkish demonstrations in Sweden.

The meeting no longer held "any importance or point," Akar said.

NATO applications a response to Russia's war on Ukraine

Sweden and Finland abandoned decades of non-alignment and applied to join NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"The reason why we are so keen to join is because of the deteriorating security situation in our neighbourhood," Billström said.

Dan Rice, an American military expert who is currently acting as a special adviser to the head of the Ukrainian forces, said providing security in the region is exactly why NATO was originally formed.

"I think it's an outstanding and great example of NATO coming together to finally fulfil the mission that it was formed in 1949," Rice told Rosemary Barton Live in a separate interview airing Sunday.

U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Thursday that Russia's invasion has strengthened NATO.

"Vladimir Putin was hoping to fracture NATO as a defensive alliance, and instead what we've seen is NATO coming together and two new countries applying to join NATO as a direct response to Russia's attempted invasion of Ukraine," he said.