Sweden's NATO Membership Bid Accepted by Turkey After 20-month Delay

Sweden's NATO Membership Bid Accepted by Turkey After 20-month Delay

ANKARA - Turkey's parliament has finally given its approval for Sweden's NATO membership bid, a significant development in the prolonged process of expanding the Western military alliance. The general assembly, dominated by President Tayyip Erdogan's ruling alliance, voted 287-55 to endorse Sweden's application, initially submitted in 2022 as a response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. NATO requires unanimous approval from all member countries for new admissions.

Previously, Turkey had raised objections to the membership bids of Sweden and Finland in 2022, citing concerns over their alleged support for groups labeled as terrorists. While Finland's membership was approved in April last year, Turkey's approval for Sweden was delayed, along with Hungary's. Hungary, known for its close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, remains the sole member state yet to approve Sweden's accession.

During the parliamentary debate, Fuat Oktay, head of the foreign affairs commission and a member of Erdogan's AK Party, expressed support for NATO enlargement, emphasizing the importance of alliance members' efforts in counterterrorism. Erdogan is expected to formally sign the legislation in the coming days.

Turkey's delays in approving Sweden's bid had caused frustration among Western allies, allowing Ankara to extract concessions. One major demand was for Sweden to strengthen its stance against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated a terrorist group by the EU and the U.S. In response, Sweden introduced a new anti-terrorism bill criminalizing membership in such organizations. Additionally, several NATO members, including Sweden, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands, relaxed their policies on arms exports to Turkey.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Turkey's decision, urging Hungary to complete its national ratification promptly. Both Turkey and Hungary maintain closer relations with Russia than other NATO members. While Turkey opposes Russia's invasion of Ukraine, it has criticized Western sanctions on Moscow. Russia, in turn, has warned of consequences if NATO strengthens its military presence in the Nordic states.

Sweden's NATO membership bid represents a historic departure from its non-aligned security policy and is seen as crucial for bolstering NATO defenses in the Baltic Sea region against potential Russian threats. The approval by Turkey now leaves Hungary as the last hurdle in the accession process, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban invited his Swedish counterpart to negotiate Hungary's potential entry into the alliance. However, Hungary's parliament is in recess until mid-February.

President Erdogan had linked the ratification to U.S. approval of F-16 fighter jet sales to Turkey. The White House supports the sale, but the timeline for approval by the U.S. Congress remains uncertain, with expectations of a swift deal following Turkey's green light for Sweden's NATO membership.

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