ANKARA: Turkiye appreciates Sweden’s steps so far to to get approval to join NATO but is not even “halfway” through fulfilling a list of commitments it made to secure Ankara’s support, the Turkish foreign minister said Thursday.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a Swedish court’s decision not to extradite a man wanted by Turkiye for alleged links to a 2016 failed coup had “poisoned” a positive atmosphere in negotiations on Sweden’s membership in the military alliance.
Sweden and Finland dropped their longstanding policies of military nonalignment this year and decided to apply to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move requires the unanimous approval of the alliance’s current 30 members.
Turkiye has held up the process while pressing the two Nordic countries to crack down on groups it considers to be terrorist organizations and to extradite people suspected of terror-related crimes.
The parliaments of 28 NATO countries have already ratified Sweden and Finland’s membership. Turkiye and Hungary are the only members that haven’t yet given their approval.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström, Cavusoglu said the Turkish government still was waiting for a “concrete development” on extraditions and asset freezes.
“There is a document, it needs to be implemented. We’re not even at the halfway point yet. We’re at the beginning,” he said, referring to a memorandum which Turkiye, Sweden and Finland signed in June.
Under the memorandum, the two countries agreed to address Turkiye’s security concerns, including requests for the deportation and extradition of Kurdish militants and people linked to a network run by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. The Turkish government accuses Gulen of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt, which he denies.
Billström’s visit came days after Sweden’s top court refused to extradite journalist Bulent Kenes, whom Turkiye accuses of being among the coup plotters. Kenes, who received asylum in Sweden, was the editor of the English-language Today’s Zaman newspaper, which was owned by the Gulen network and the government closed down as part of its crackdown on the group.
“The negotiations (between Turkiye and Sweden) were continuing in a constructive way,” Cavusoglu said. “But this last (incident), the rejection of Kenes’ extradition, unfortunately, seriously poisoned this atmosphere.”
Billström reiterated that Sweden was determined to fulfill its commitments and said Stockholm was in the process of strengthening its anti-terrorism legislation.
A constitutional amendment will enter into force on Jan. 1 that restricts the freedom of association of groups that engage in or support terrorism and targets the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, he said.
The Swedish government also plans to introduce legislation that further impedes people taking part in the activities of terrorist groups, Billström said.
“My message to Minister Cavusoglu and to the Turkish people is clear: Sweden keeps its promises. We take the agreement seriously. We have initiated steps on every paragraph and we will continue to implement it,” the Swedish minister said.