Turkey Says NATO’s Nordic Expansion Depends on Meeting Pledges

(Bloomberg) --

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Turkey is keeping up the pressure on Sweden and Finland, again telling the Nordic countries to do more to fight terrorist groups in exchange for allowing them to join NATO.

“It is mandatory for countries which want to join the alliance to take solid steps to meet their responsibilities under the agreement,” the country’s National Security Council said after a meeting chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late Wednesday, referring to a pact the three countries hammered out last year.

Turkey says its main problem is with what it views as Sweden’s hesitance to wage a crackdown on supporters of Kurdish militants, considered as terrorists by Ankara.

Recent tensions over displaying of an upside-down effigy of Erdogan and burning of a translated copy of Islam’s holy book of Koran in Stockholm sparked outrage in Turkey and other Muslim nations. That makes it less likely for Erdogan to give his consent to the Nordic expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as he seeks to consolidate support of his conservative and nationalist base ahead of elections slated for May.

Turkey and Hungary are the only two of NATO’s 30 members who have yet to ratify the applications. Hungary has said it plans to process the applications at the opening of parliament next month, though its timelines have shifted in the past. Approval by Budapest would leave Turkey as the lone holdout to the expansion, which NATO diplomats had hoped to finalize in time for the alliance’s summit in Vilnius in July.

Finland still wants to join the defense bloc at the same time with Sweden, though earlier this week for the first time it indicated the applications could be decoupled should Sweden hit a permanent obstacle. Turkey’s government has expressed satisfaction with Helsinki’s cooperation.

Last summer, Turkey agreed in principle to NATO allies including the US inviting Sweden and Finland to join the group, but went on to demand concessions from Sweden. Those included a broader crackdown on Kurdish groups alongside the extradition of suspects. Sweden has insisted that it’s in compliance with the agreement hammered out at NATO’s June summit in Madrid last year, which allowed the expansion process to move forward.

Both Finland and Sweden have approved arms exports to Turkey, which had been halted in 2019 when Turkey embarked on military operations in northern Syria. They’ve both also extradited at least one person each to Turkey.

Even so, Sweden’s Supreme Court has blocked the deportation of Bulent Kenes, a former newspaper editor who was mentioned by Erdogan earlier this year as an example of a person that his country wants.

Both Nordic countries’ terrorism legislation is on par with NATO’s existing members, and they fulfill conditions the alliance has set for membership.

--With assistance from Niclas Rolander and Ott Ummelas.

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