Stoltenberg says Sweden “fulfilled its obligations” but made no progress in talks with Turkey’s Erdogan.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg urged Turkey not to veto Sweden’s offer to join the military alliance, ahead of a meeting this month to try to overcome objections delaying Stockholm membership.
“Membership will make Sweden more secure, but it will also make NATO and Turkey stronger,” Secretary General Stoltenberg told reporters in Istanbul on Sunday after meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his new Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, former head of the intelligence agency.
“I hope to finalize Sweden’s accession as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg added.
Officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland will meet next week to try to resolve the issues that have delayed Sweden’s NATO membership, Stoltenberg said, referring to the permanent joint mechanism set up to address Turkey’s concerns about Sweden and Finland.
In March, Turkey ratified Finland’s membership application and became NATO’s 31st member in April.
All 31 member countries must ratify the accession protocol for a candidate to join the transatlantic alliance.
turkey government accuses Sweden of being too lenient on “terrorist” organizations and security threats, including Kurdish groups and individuals associated with a 2016 coup attempt. Hungary has also delayed its approval, but the reasons why have not been publicly clarified.
“Sweden has taken important concrete steps to meet Turkey’s concerns,” Stoltenberg said, noting that the country has amended its constitution, strengthened its anti-terror lawsand lifted an arms embargo on Turkey since it applied to join NATO just over a year ago.
NATO wants to bring Sweden into the fold at the moment US President Joe Biden and other leaders will meet in Lithuania on July 11-12.
Fearing that Moscow could attack them after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military non-alignment to seek protection under the NATO security umbrella.
As Stoltenberg held talks in Istanbul, hundreds of people, including dozens of pro-Kurdish protesters, gathered in Stockholm to demonstrate against Sweden’s planned NATO membership. Up to 500 people took part in the “No to NATO, no to Erdogan’s laws in Sweden” protest.
They demonstrated under the banner of the “Alliance against NATO”, an umbrella for Kurdish organisations, left-wing groups, anarchists, youth and climate activists and people who oppose Sweden’s new “anti-terrorism” laws, which came into force on June 1. like those who ask for free media.
In January, a protest in Stockholm involving the burning of a copy of the Qur’an halted talks on Sweden’s NATO membership, after Erdogan called off the meetings. The incident sparked anti-Sweden demonstrations across the Muslim world.
Stoltenberg seemed to suggest that the protests might have arisen during their talks.
“I understand that it is difficult to see anti-Turkey and anti-NATO demonstrations in Sweden,” Stoltenberg said. “But let me be clear, freedom of assembly and expression are core values in our democratic societies. These rights must be protected and respected.”
On Saturday, Stoltenberg attended the opening in Ankara from Erdogan, who was re-elected to serve a third presidential term and another five years in office.