May 19. 2024. 1:58

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Turkey opens up to Sweden’s NATO application after US meeting


Turkey adopted a more conciliatory stance on Sweden’s NATO application after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Turkish President Tayyip, and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu discussed the possible purchase of US F16 aircraft on Monday.

After showing opposition to the joint NATO membership bid of Finland and particularly Sweden for months, Turkey finally showed signs of softening its position on Monday.

“More meetings will be held with Sweden and Finland on NATO membership,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister announced.

Turkey doubled down its opposition to Sweden’s NATO application, citing, in particular, Sweden’s refusal to extradite members of the Turkish opposition, mainly Kurds.

Turkey later went so far as to rule out its support for Swedish membership following the Quran-burning incident in January in Stockholm. The NATO process “has been put on hold”, Finnish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said at the time.

“This is a very much welcome and good message from Turkey,” said Billström, while Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he expects to “get back to these talks as soon as possible”.

During the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, Kristersson met with his Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin, who, according to him, reiterated her desire for Finland and Sweden to join NATO together.

“But this does not change the fact that it is Turkey that makes Turkish decisions, and we have great respect for that,” he added.

US influence

Turkey’s change of heart comes after the US ramped up the pressure on Ankara to let Sweden and Finland into the Alliance as soon as possible.

As Kristersson pointed out, other NATO countries have extremely strong support for Sweden joining NATO.

“Solid” support for Sweden’s NATO application was expressed by US Vice-President Kamala Harris, according to Kristerrsson.

This support was echoed by Blinken during his joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart on Monday. “The United States strongly supports Nordic accession as soon as possible,” he said, adding that “Sweden and Finland’s NATO expansion is not a bilateral issue”.

Discussions between Blinken and Cavusoglu revolved around the sale of US F-16 jets to Turkey though Cavusoglu denied that these talks had any influence on Turkey’s newly-found eagerness to deal with Sweden’s NATO application.

“It would not be right or fair to make two independent issues conditional on each other,” Cavusoglu said, adding that “It would not be possible for us to purchase the F-16s under these conditions.”

Turkey is now seeking to upgrade its F-16 fleet after it was kicked off a project to develop the next-generation F-35 fighter following its acquisition of Russian air defence missiles.

On the US side, Blinken assured that the F-16 deal was “very important for ongoing NATO interoperability and in the national interest of the United States”.

The secretary of state’s declarations echoed Social Democrat MEP Evin Ircin’s earlier interview with EURACTIV. Asked if the US should be more involved in solving Ankara’s stalling Sweden’s NATO application, she answered: “Absolutely. It’s in the interest of the US, of all the EU member states, and, in the end, it is also in the interest of Turkey.”

(Charles Szumski | EURACTIV.com)