HomeShoppingTurkey’s parliament approves Sweden’s NATO membership, lifting a key hurdle

Turkey’s parliament approves Sweden’s NATO membership, lifting a key hurdle

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish legislators on Tuesday endorsed Sweden’s membership in NATO, lifting a major hurdle on the previously nonaligned country’s entry into the military alliance.

Lawmakers ratified Sweden’s accession protocol 287 to 55, with ruling party members saying the Nordic country’s tougher stance on Kurdish militants was key to winning approval. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also previously has linked the ratification to Turkey’s desire to buy fighter jets from the U.S.

The ratification comes into effect after its publication in the Official Gazette, which was expected to be swift.

Hungary then becomes the only NATO ally not to have ratified Sweden’s accession.

“Today we are one step closer to becoming a full member of NATO,” Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. In Washington, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan welcomed the news, saying having Sweden in the alliance will make it “safer and stronger.”

NATO-member Turkey had been delaying Sweden’s membership for more than a year, accusing the country of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara regards as security threats. It sought concessions from Stockholm, including moves to counter militants.

Turkey also had been angered by a series of demonstrations by supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in Sweden as well as Quran-burning protests that roiled Muslim countries.

Sweden in the past was a “center in Europe” for the PKK, Fuat Oktay, a senior legislator in Erdogan’s governing party and the head of the foreign affairs committee, told parliament.

But since then, Sweden has amended its anti-terrorism laws, curbed the PKK’s financial activities, convicted a terrorism suspect and extradited another, and lifted restrictions on arms sales to Turkey, Oktay said.

“PKK-affiliated circles no longer find a comfortable room for maneuver in Sweden as they did in the past,” Oktay said, explaining why the ruling party was now supporting Stockholm’s bid.

Sweden pledged deeper cooperation with Turkey on counterterrorism, as well as support for Turkey’s ambition to revive its EU membership bid.

Last month, parliament’s foreign affairs committee gave its consent to Sweden’s bid in the first stage of the legislative process, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent its accession protocol to lawmakers for approval.

Turkey’s main opposition party also supported Sweden’s membership in the alliance but a center-right party and the country’s pro-Kurdish party were among parties that opposed it.

“Sweden’s steps concerning its extradition of wanted criminals or the fight against terrorism have remained limited and insufficient,” Musavat Dervisoglu, a legislator from the Good Party told parliament.

Erdogan has linked ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership to the U.S. Congress’ approval of a Turkish request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet. He has also urged Canada and other NATO allies to lift arms embargoes on Turkey.

Koray Aydin, another Good Party legislator, had urged parliament to hold out on ratifying Sweden’s accession until the F-16 sales and the modernization kits were approved in Washington, saying Turkey would lose an important bargaining chip.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration never formally tied the sale of the F-16s to Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership. However, numerous influential members of Congress had said they would not support the sale unless and until Turkey signed off on Sweden’s accession to the alliance.

U.S. administration officials say they expect relatively quick action on the F-16 sale after the ratification.

Sullivan, the U.S. national security advisor, said after Tuesday’s vote that Sweden’s accession to the alliance has been a priority for Biden.

“Sweden is a strong, capable defense partner. Sweden joining NATO is in the national security interests of the United States, and will make the Alliance safer and stronger,” he said.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming NATO’s 31st member, after Turkey’s parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.

Hungary has also stalled Sweden’s bid, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy. Hungary has said it would not be the last to approve accession, although it was not clear when the Hungarian parliament intends to hold a vote.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced Tuesday that he sent a letter to his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, inviting him to Budapest to discuss Sweden’s entry into NATO.

NATO requires the unanimous approval of all existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary were the only countries that have been holding out, frustrating other NATO allies who had been pressing for Sweden and Finland’s swift accession.

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Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani and Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.

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