ANKARA: The Turkish parliament is poised to resume discussions on Sweden’s NATO membership, a contentious issue that has become entangled with Ankara’s request for F-16 fighter jets from the United States.
Sweden and Finland sought NATO membership following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, gaining swift approval from all NATO members except Turkey and Hungary. Finland was admitted as NATO’s 31st member in April, leaving Turkey and Hungary as the remaining countries yet to ratify Sweden’s bid, submitted 19 months ago.
In November, the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee failed to reach an agreement on a text for a full floor vote. The committee is reconvening on Tuesday to resume discussions. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had initially opposed Sweden’s NATO membership, but in July, he withdrew his objections after Sweden took actions against Kurdish groups labeled as terrorists by Ankara.
Fuat Oktay, a lawmaker from Erdogan’s ruling AKP party and head of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, noted a change in Sweden’s policy and emphasized additional steps requested by Turkey. The approval process, once sanctioned by the committee, will proceed to a vote on the full parliament floor, where Erdogan’s alliance holds the majority.
However, Erdogan has linked the approval to several conditions, stating that the Turkish parliament will act on Sweden only if the US Congress approves Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets and if other NATO allies, including Canada, lift arms embargoes imposed on Ankara. Erdogan suggested that these issues are interconnected and will be handled in coordination.
The strained process is further complicated by Turkey’s expulsion from the US-led F-35 joint strike fighter program in 2019, a consequence of Erdogan’s decision to acquire a Russian missile defense system considered a threat by NATO.
While the Biden administration has promised to proceed with the $20-billion F-16 sale, it faces obstacles in the US Congress due to concerns about Turkey’s alleged human rights violations and past tensions with Greece.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara office director of the US German Marshall Fund think tank, highlighted the lack of strong consensus in the Turkish parliament on Sweden’s NATO membership and in the US Congress on the F-16 sale to Turkey. Erdogan’s anti-Israel rhetoric during the conflict with Hamas and recent events, such as the killing of Turkish soldiers by Kurdish militants, add further complexities to the situation.
The intertwining of geopolitical factors underscores the challenges facing Sweden’s NATO membership approval and Turkey’s pursuit of F-16 fighter jets, with outcomes dependent on diplomatic efforts and mutual trust between the involved parties.