Turkey’s parliament to vote on Sweden’s NATO accession this week

ANKARA — The Turkish Parliament is expected to begin its debate on Sweden’s membership in NATO on Tuesday, furthering the Nordic nation’s accession to the alliance that has been pending for almost two years.

The full parliamentary vote on the accession is expected to be held same day, a parliamentary source told Al-Monitor.

The long-stalled ratification of the Swedish accession protocol will come after lawmakers on the Foreign Relations Committee from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling alliance endorsed the bill on Dec. 26, paving the way for a vote by the full parliament.

After a rare phone call between Erdogan and President Joe Biden last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Turkey this month as part of his fourth tour to the region, meeting with Erdogan and his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan.

Fidan traveled to New York on Monday to attend the UN Security Council meeting on Palestine.

Along with Finland, Sweden formally applied to join the transatlantic alliance in May 2022 shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As the war drags on and nears the two-year mark, the expansion of NATO has become a key foreign policy priority for the Biden administration.

Turkey, in turn, has seized the occasion to raise its own grievances with other NATO members and prospective allies in the bloc, tabling a series of national security-related demands in return for greenlighting Sweden’s bid, including the lifting of arms embargoes on Ankara by Western powers. In addition to Sweden and Finland, Germany and Canada are among the Western countries that sanctioned Turkey over its ground incursion in Syria against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in 2019. While Ankara considers the SDF a threat to its national security over its links to Kurdish insurgents who have fought the Turkish state since 1984, the group remains a major ally of the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State. 

 Ankara has so far refused to ratify Sweden’s NATO bid, which requires consensus among all member states, accusing Stockholm of harboring individuals and groups that Turkey considers terrorists. Stockholm amended its constitution and counterterrorism laws in 2022 to address the Turkish government’s concerns.

In a bid to convince Turkey to drop its objections, both Finland and Sweden lifted de facto defense sales embargoes against Turkey after applying to join the military alliance. 

Finland became a NATO member in April 2023, but a series of protests against the Turkish government over the past year, mainly by Kurdish activists in Sweden, as well as Quran-burning demonstrations in the country have raised tensions between Ankara and Stockholm.

Disagreements between Ankara and Washington also played a part in delaying the Swedish bid as Turkey has sought simultaneous progress on its purchase of F-16 fighter jets from the United States. Turkey has sought to purchase 40 new F-16s and roughly 80 modernization kits from the United States since 2021, following its ouster from a consortium that manufactured new generation F-35 stealth fighter jets in 2019. 

The Biden administration publicly endorsed the sale in 2023 but the State Department has yet to submit its formal notification to the US Congress in order to finalize the deal, citing opposition from leading lawmakers.

Following a phone call with his US counterpart in December, Erdogan said Biden assured him that he would ensure the deal would be concluded after Turkey approves Sweden’s joining of NATO. 

The sale doesn’t require a vote by Congress, but lawmakers have the right to block such sales within 30 days after the formal notification. Some leading members of Congress have threatened to do so, citing a series of foreign policy moves by Erdogan’s government, including Ankara’s stalling on NATO’s Nordic expansion as well as tensions with Aegean rival Greece. However, the two NATO neighbors have seen a boost in ties since Greece sent aid to Turkey following a devastating earthquake in the country’s southeast on Feb. 6, 2023, that killed at least 50,000 people.

Source link