Turkey praises Sweden but says more needed for NATO membership

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Turkey on Thursday praised Sweden for responding to its security concerns but stressed more was needed to win Ankara’s full backing for Stockholm’s stalled NATO membership bid, Agence France-Presse reported.

Sweden and Finland broke with decades of military non-alignment and applied to join the US-led defense alliance in response to Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO members yet to ratify the Nordic neighbors’ applications.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told his visiting Swedish counterpart Tobias Billstrom that the new right-wing government that swept to power in Stockholm in October was more receptive to Ankara’s demands.

But he also stressed that “the steps that we want have still not been taken.”

“We don’t ignore the positive steps taken but there are still important ones to take,” Çavuşoğlu said.

Billstrom’s visit was planned before Sweden’s Supreme Court provoked Turkish anger by blocking the extradition Monday of a top reporter Ankara implicates in a failed 2016 coup attempt.

Çavuşoğlu called it “a very negative development” on Tuesday.

He tempered those remarks slightly in a joint media appearance with Billstrom in Ankara.

“Our talks are continuing in a sincere atmosphere,” said Çavuşoğlu .

“The rejection of (the reporter’s) extradition unfortunately poisoned the positive atmosphere.”

‘Concrete steps’

Billstrom countered that Sweden has an “independent judiciary” but also pointed to constitutional changes that will make it easier to prosecute “terrorist” activities starting in January.

“The change in the constitution will make the support of terrorist activities into an offense. We are doing our job when it comes to implementing the memorandum,” he said in reference to a membership deal Sweden signed during a NATO summit in Madrid.

“We are taking concrete steps.”

The Madrid memorandum lifted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s threat to veto NATO’s expansion during a June summit held under the shadow of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The 10-point agreement obligated Finland and Sweden to join Turkey’s fight against banned Kurdish militants and to swiftly extradite suspects.

Turkey put the deal to the immediate test by demanding the extradition of dozens of alleged Kurdish militants and coup plotters who found refuge in Finland and Sweden.

Sweden has also followed through on its pledge to re-authorize arms exports to Turkey for the first time since Ankara’s controversial 2019 ground offensive into northeastern Syria.

Çavuşoğlu praised the decision but cautioned that Turkish defense companies “still don’t have a positive answer for importing some products.”

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