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Sweden warns that it cannot meet Turkey’s demands to support its bid for NATO

Sweden said Turkey was seeking concessions Stockholm could not make to approve its application to join NATO, as the prime minister insisted the country had done all it could to address Ankara’s concerns.

Ulf Kristersson, the new center-right leader, threw down the gauntlet to Turkey on Sunday in the clearest indication yet from Stockholm that he can no longer convince Turkey to drop its opposition to Sweden and neighboring Finland joining the Western military alliance.

“Turkey confirms that we did what we said we would do.” But they also say they want things we can’t and won’t give them. So the decision is now up to Turkey,” Kristersson said at a Swedish defense conference.

Sweden’s new government has said joining NATO is its top priority, and its application has been approved by 28 of the alliance’s 30 members. But Hungary — whose parliament is expected to ratify the membership bids of Sweden and Finland in the coming weeks — and Turkey have yet to do so.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly accused Sweden of harboring Kurdish terrorists and alleged members of the Islamic sect blamed for the failed 2016 coup.

Erdogan singled out one journalist — Bulent Kenesh, former editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman daily — and demanded his deportation for his alleged role in the coup attempt. Sweden’s Supreme Court rejected the extradition request in December, ruling that Kenesh risked persecution for his political views in Turkey.

Stockholm has made a number of concessions to Ankara, including distancing itself from the Kurdish militia, lifting an embargo on arms exports to Turkey and emphasizing that it will work to fight terrorism.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at Sunday’s security conference © Henrik Montgomery/AFP/Getty Images

Kristersson said on Sunday that Stockholm was fulfilling the commitments it made at the NATO summit in Madrid last July, but that it had to respect the law on deportations, which is a judicial process in Sweden without a government role.

Turkey’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Opinion polls have shown that Swedes do not support offering too many concessions to Turkey: in a poll by the daily Dagens Nyheter last week, 79 percent said they wanted Sweden to stand up for the rule of law — even if it delayed its NATO membership. .

Asked whether Turkey would ratify Sweden’s membership before the June presidential election, Kristersson said it was “impossible to know.”

Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s foreign minister, said Turkey was unlikely to ratify the two countries’ membership before the election, leaving the NATO summit in Vilnius in July as the next possible deadline.

Speaking at the same event on Sunday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg did not directly mention Turkey’s blockade of the process, but said he was “happy that the agreement [with Ankara] was accompanied”. He was “convinced that we will soon be able to warmly welcome [Sweden and Finland] as full members of NATO,” he said.

The membership of both countries “erases the gray areas, strengthens the political community and . . . will make us all safer,” Stoltenberg said.

The NATO chief has staked his personal credibility on the membership process, having taken a personal role in reaching a tripartite deal with Erdogan last summer, traveling to meet the Turkish leader to urge him to lift the ratification block.

But he signaled on Sunday that, regardless of the process, the two applicants are already being treated as members in a number of areas, including the alliance’s mutual defense clause. “It is unthinkable that NATO would not act if the security of Sweden and Finland were threatened,” he added.

Kristersson also outlined Sweden’s potential military contribution to NATO once it becomes a member. The country will participate in NATO air police missions in the Baltic states, the Black Sea and Iceland, he said. Sweden would also seek to join the European Sky Shield initiative, a German-led plan to create a continental air and missile defense system.

Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yakli in Istanbul

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