ISTANBUL: The Turkish parliament is expected to delay a comprehensive vote on Sweden’s bid to join NATO till mid-January, AFP news agency reported on Thursday.
The Swedish accession to the US-led Western alliance achieved a crucial milestone earlier this week when it received approval from the Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee. This development marked the end of a protracted 19-month standoff that had strained relations between Turkey and its Western partners.
However, the final step in the process involves a vote by the full 600-seat Turkish parliament, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling alliance holds a majority. Following parliamentary approval, President Erdogan would then need to sign the accession into law.
Although Erdogan’s party has the option to call for a special session to expedite the voting process, current indications suggest that they might wait until parliament’s scheduled return on January 15.
Sweden’s NATO Membership Bid
Sweden, along with its neighbor Finland, shifted its long-standing military non-alignment stance and pursued NATO membership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Turkey and Hungary were the only NATO members initially opposing their applications. While Turkey eventually withdrew its objection to Finland, it continued accusing Sweden of not adequately addressing exiled Kurdish groups that Ankara classifies as “terrorists.”
In response to Turkish pressure, Sweden amended its anti-terrorism legislation. Erdogan lifted his objections to Sweden’s NATO application at a NATO summit in July, leveraging the situation to seek concessions from the United States. Erdogan conditioned Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s application on the simultaneous approval by the US Congress for Turkey’s request to purchase 40 F-16 jets and spare parts.
Despite assurances from the US administration, congressional approval for the F-16 sale has encountered resistance. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan discussed Sweden’s NATO membership with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, emphasizing Turkey’s expectation for the US administration and Congress to “act in line with the spirit of alliance and to fulfill the commitments made” regarding the F-16 deal.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg praised the parliamentary committee’s approval of Sweden’s NATO bid, urging Turkey and Hungary to complete their ratifications “as soon as possible.”