MADRID: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Sweden and Finland on Thursday (June 30) that he could still block their efforts to join NATO if they failed to implement a new membership agreement with Ankara.
Erdogan issued his blunt warning at the end of a NATO summit where the US-led alliance officially invited the Nordic countries to join the 30-nation bloc.
Both nations abandoned their history of military non-alignment and announced their intention to join NATO in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Their offers were heading for quick approval until Erdogan voiced his concerns in May.
He accused the two of providing refuge for outlaw Kurdish militants and promoting “terrorism”.
Erdogan also demanded that they lift arms embargoes imposed in response to Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into Syria.
A 10-point memorandum signed by the three parties on the sidelines of Tuesday’s NATO summit appears to address many of Erdogan’s concerns.
Erdogan overruled his objections and then held a warm meeting with US President Joe Biden which was followed by a promise of further fighter jet sales to Turkey.
Yet Erdogan told reporters in an impromptu press conference at the end of the summit that the memorandum did not mean that Turkey would automatically approve the two countries’ membership.
Applications from new countries must be endorsed by all members and ratified by their respective parliaments.
Erdogan has warned that the future behavior of Sweden and Finland will decide whether he forwards their candidacy to the Turkish parliament.
“If they fulfill their duties, we will send them to parliament. If they are not fulfilled, that is out of the question,” he said.
A senior Turkish diplomat in Washington said the ratification process could come at the earliest end of September and could wait until 2023, with parliament going into recess from Friday.
A Western diplomatic source in the halls of the NATO summit accused Erdogan of engaging in “blackmail”.
Erdogan delivered his message a day after Turkey announced it would seek the extradition of 12 suspects from Finland and 21 from Sweden.
The 33 people have all been accused of being either banned Kurdish activists or members of a group led by a US-based preacher responsible for the failed 2016 coup.
But Erdogan appeared to up the ante on Thursday by noting that Sweden had “promised” Turkey to extradite “73 terrorists”.
He did not explain when Sweden issued the pledge or provide further details.
Officials in Stockholm said they did not understand Erdogan’s reference, but stressed that Sweden strictly adheres to the rule of law.
“In Sweden, Swedish law is enforced by independent courts,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said in a statement to AFP.
“Swedish citizens are not extradited. Non-Swedish citizens can be extradited at the request of other countries, but only if this is compatible with Swedish law and the European Convention,” Johansson said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Wednesday that Erdogan appeared to be referring to cases that had already been dealt with by officials and courts.
“I guess all these cases have been resolved in Finland. Decisions are made, and those decisions are partly made by our courts,” Niinisto told reporters in Madrid.
“I see no reason to take them back.”
Most of Turkey’s demands and past negotiations have involved Sweden because of its stronger ties to the Kurdish diaspora.
Sweden does not keep official statistics on ethnicity, but it is believed that there are 100,000 Kurds living in the nation of 10 million.
The Brookings Institution has warned that Turkey’s “loose and often aggressive wording” of the term “terrorist” could lead to problems in the coming months.
“The complication stems from a definition of terrorism in Turkish law that goes beyond the criminalization of participation in acts of violence and undermines fundamental freedom of expression,” the states-based institute said. United in a report.
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