NATO chief to visit Ankara in ‘near future’ to push Sweden membership

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NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on June 1 said he would visit Ankara “in the near future” to push the ratification of Sweden’s membership, after the reelection of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“I’m confident of course that Sweden will be a member, and then we’re working for that to happen as early as possible,” Stoltenberg said at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo.

Stoltenberg said he had already spoken to Erdogan by phone earlier this week to “highlight the importance of making progress” on Sweden’s membership.

Fearing that they might be targeted after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella. Finland became NATO’s 31st member country in April.

NATO must agree unanimously for countries to join. Turkish government accuses Sweden of being too lenient on terrorist organizations and security threats, including the members of the PKK and FETÖ terror organizations.

Hungary has also delayed its approval, but the reasons why have not been made publicly clear.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Stockholm had fulfilled “all the commitments” to join NATO and urged Türkiye and Hungary to allow his country into the alliance.

For months Sweden, Finland and Türkiye have been holding talks to try to address Ankara’s concerns. Billström said that he expects things to be made clear at a new meeting of this “permanent joint mechanism” in coming weeks.

“Following that meeting, the ratification will happen,” Billstrom insisted.

He noted that as of Thursday Sweden had tightened its antiterrorism laws. It is now it illegal to finance, recruit for or publicly encourage “a terrorist organization,” or to travel abroad with the intention of joining such groups.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that the issues of Sweden’s membership and the fighter jets were distinct. However, he stressed that the completion of both would dramatically strengthen European security.

“Both of these are vital, in our judgement, to European security,” Blinken told reporters. “We believe that both should go forward as quickly as possible; that is to say Sweden’s accession and moving forward on the F-16 package more broadly.”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also said that “it is essential that we can finally welcome Sweden as the 32nd member.” She stressed that the Swedish government has Berlin’s “full support.”

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