NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that Turkey has agreed to back Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance.
The announcement comes on the eve of NATO’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, and represents a stunning about-face from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had earlier on Monday suggested Sweden could only join the alliance after his country is accepted into the European Union. Erdoğan has stood in the path of Sweden joining NATO for more than a year over a multitude of concerns.
“Glad to announce that after the meeting I hosted with @RTErdogan & @SwedishPM, President Erdogan has agreed to forward #Sweden’s accession protocol to the Grand National Assembly ASAP & ensure ratification. This is an historic step which makes all #NATO Allies stronger & safer,” Stoltenberg said in a tweet after a meeting in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
Turkey had resisted Sweden’s bid to join NATO for a long time, giving multiple reasons – including accusations that Swedish officials have been complicit in Islamophobic demonstrations, such as the burning of the Quran. More importantly, Turkey claims that Sweden allows members of recognized Kurdish terror groups to operate, most notably the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Sweden changed its terrorism laws earlier this year, making it a crime to be part of these groups, though that had not yet been enough for Turkey.
But Erdoğan had faced pressure to step out of the way of Sweden’s NATO bid from his European and American allies. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with officials in Turkey and Sweden, respectively, on Monday in preparation for the summit, and President Joe Biden spoke with Erdoğan while he was flying aboard Air Force One Sunday. Biden “conveyed his desire to welcome Sweden into NATO as soon as possible,” according to a readout from the White House, which did not signal any movement on the matter.
The news represents a major win for Biden, who had consistently expressed confidence that Sweden would join the alliance at the Vilnius summit, despite Turkish opposition. The president told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an exclusive interview ahead of the summit that he was optimistic that Sweden would eventually be admitted to NATO, noting Turkey is seeking to modernize its F-16 fleet, along with Greece, which has voted to admit Sweden.
“Turkey is looking for modernization of F-16 aircraft. And (Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos) Mitsotakis in Greece is also looking for some help,” Biden said. “And so, what I’m trying to, quite frankly, put together is a little bit of a consortium here, where we’re strengthening NATO in terms of military capacity of both Greece as well as Turkey, and allow Sweden to come in. But it’s in play. It’s not done.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated.