An agreement on Sweden joining NATO could be reached in time for a summit of the alliance next month in Lithuania, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday after meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
He also said officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland would meet later this month for talks to try to overcome objections from Turkey and Hungary that have delayed Sweden’s NATO membership bid.
Stoltenberg’s talks in Istanbul with Erdogan took place a week after Erdogan extended his two-decade rule in an election.
Political analysts had said Erdogan, who has sought to act as a broker between Russia and the West in the context of the Ukraine war, was unlikely to take a decision on Sweden’s NATO membership until the election had been decided.
Stoltenberg told Reuters in an interview it was important to use the remaining time before the NATO summit in Vilnius in July to get a deal.
Turkey in March ratified Finland’s bid for membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but still objects to Sweden joining the alliance, as does Hungary. Russia has long opposed NATO expansion as a threat to its own security.
In its objections to Swedish membership, Turkey has said Stockholm harbours members of militant groups it considers to be terrorists.
“Sweden has taken significant concrete steps to meet Turkey’s concerns,” Stoltenberg told reporters, referring to a constitutional change by Sweden and its stepping up of counter-terrorism cooperation with Ankara.
To try to resolve outstanding issues, Stoltenberg told a news conference officials from Finland, Sweden and Turkey would meet in the week of June 12, but did not specify when. NATO defence ministers will meet in Brussels June 15-16.
Turkey’s elections at the end of May coincided with anti-NATO protests in Stockholm, in which the flag of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), outlawed in Turkey, was projected on to the parliament building.
Asked about the protests, Stoltenberg said demonstrations were not in themselves illegal.
“We need to distinguish clearly between protest and act of terrorism,” he said. “What is illegal is to support, to finance terrorist organisations but it is not illegal to demonstrate and to be against NATO and individual NATO allies because that is part of democratic values which all should protect.”
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