Turkey says Nordic NATO expansion unlikely before June
ISTANBUL (AP) – Sweden and Finland are unlikely to be able to join NATO before June, a senior Turkish official said Saturday.
The Nordic states applied to join the Western military alliance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but their membership must be approved by all 30 NATO nations. Only Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify the deal, with Ankara tying acceptance to tougher counter-terrorism measures.
“It really depends on how fast they move and how wide and deep they move on these issues,” said Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman and foreign policy adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“What they’re telling us is that the new laws will be fully effective and complete by June, but there are probably some things they can do before then,” Kalin said.
Turkey has demanded that Sweden and Finland tighten laws to curb the activities of supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.
“In principle we would like to see them (Sweden and Finland) in NATO,” Kalin told foreign journalists in Istanbul. “What they are saying is that they need a little more time. We told them ‘You must meet these conditions’, which means they must send a serious message to the CCP.
Ankara recognizes the Swedish and Finnish commitment to changing anti-terrorism laws in line with an agreement signed between the three countries at last June’s NATO summit, he added.
“Stockholm is fully committed to implementing the agreement that was signed last year in Madrid, but the country needs another six months to write new laws that would allow the judicial system to apply the new definitions of terrorism.”
The timing of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections may also play a role, Kalin said. The polls are currently scheduled for June 18, but the timing of the pilgrimage to Mecca and a religious holiday could bring them a month earlier. Any NATO deal must be ratified by parliament, which is likely to go into recess before the election.
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Officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland will meet in Brussels in February, but Kalin warned that incidents such as the hanging of an effigy of Erdogan in Stockholm on Wednesday could have a negative impact on the negotiations.
“We believe in this process and we want to make progress, but if these incidents continue, it will not look good for them and it will certainly affect the process – it will slow down progress,” he said.
Kalin also spoke about the war in Ukraine and Turkey’s rapprochement with Syria.
He defended Ankara’s decision not to join Western sanctions against Russia, pointing to the grain deal and prisoner swap as successes for its role as a mediator.
“Such localized moments of de-escalation” would help end the war. “If the goal (of the sanctions) was to change Russian behavior and end the war, I don’t think that has been achieved,” he said.
Referring to talks on normalizing relations between Ankara and Damascus, Kalin said the initial meeting between the neighbors’ defense ministers in late December could be extended, with foreign ministers likely to meet in February.
“We will see how these meetings will go, what results they will bring and then, depending on this, we will talk about a possible meeting at the level of the president”, he said.
Erdogan has been a fierce critic of Syrian President Bashar Assad since the civil war broke out 11 years ago and has thrown his support behind rebel groups fighting to oust Assad. The Turkish president, however, is under intense pressure at home to return Syrian refugees amid an economic crisis.