Türkiye, Sweden, Finland set to meet for NATO talks ahead of Vilnius summit

Türkiye, Sweden, Finland set to meet for NATO talks ahead of Vilnius summit

Türkiye, Sweden, Finland set to meet for NATO talks ahead of Vilnius summit

In an effort to address Turkish objections to Sweden's accession to NATO, senior officials from Türkiye, Sweden and Finland will gather in Brussels today for a crucial meeting.

The talks come at a crucial juncture as NATO's annual summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius approaches, and the last-ditch effort launched by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg aims to find common ground and convince Türkiye to endorse Sweden's entry into the military alliance before the event.

“We will make our assessment following this meeting,” Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said on July 4, but rejected pressures for accelerating the Swedish approval process before the annual summit.

Stoltenberg, for his part, says the time is now to welcome Sweden as a full member of NATO. Sweden, too, is eager to join the alliance before the upcoming summit of the 31 members, scheduled for July 11-12.

The talks will involve the participation of foreign ministers, intelligence chiefs and security advisers from the three countries. Sweden applied for NATO membership last year, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine and mounting concerns in Europe. Initially, Sweden and Finland sought to join NATO together, but Türkiye's objections to Sweden's membership led Finland to join the alliance independently in April.

Ankara has raised concerns about Sweden's leniency towards terrorist groups and is pushing for more concrete action in the fight against them. Although Sweden has amended its anti-terror legislation since applying for NATO membership, Türkiye argues PKK supporters can still freely organize demonstrations, recruit and procure financial resources within the country.

The demonstrations rallied by pro-PKK groups in Sweden have frustrated the Nordic country's bid to join NATO. Moreover, demonstrations by individual anti-Islam activists have further complicated matters.

Last week, a self-identified refugee from Iraq set fire to a Quran outside a mosque in central Stockholm. The police authorized the protest citing freedom of speech, after a previous decision to ban a similar protest was overturned by a Swedish court.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on June 3 that Sweden must work harder on its "homework" required for NATO membership.

“We have made it clear that the determined fight against terrorist organizations and Islamophobia are our red line,” Erdoğan said, speaking after a cabinet meeting. “Everyone must accept that Türkiye's friendship cannot be won by supporting terrorism or by making space for terrorists.”

In the meantime, Hungary has also not yet ratified Sweden's bid to join NATO. However, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a news conference in Budapest earlier this week that if there is a shift in Türkiye's stance, Hungary would honor its commitment not to obstruct any country's NATO membership.

Ankara welcomes extension of NATO chief’s tenure

In the meantime, Ankara has welcomed the decision of the NATO Council to extend the tenure of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg until Oct. 1, 2024.

“We congratulate Secretary General Stoltenberg who has been displaying close cooperation and solidarity with our country during his time in office,” read a statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry on July 5.

“Since assuming this responsibility in 2014, Secretary General Stoltenberg has been striving to safeguard the Alliance’s unity and solidarity in the face of increasing threats and challenges, including terrorism. We believe he will continue to portray the requisite leadership,” added the statement.

Meanwhile, the ministry also announced that Fidan held a phone conversation with the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, primarily discussing the expansion of NATO.

The phone call touched upon several other crucial matters, such as the Istanbul grain export deal, the joint efforts to combat the growing threat of synthetic drugs and the upcoming international meeting scheduled to take place on July 7 in the United States.