Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, called on Ankara to drop its opposition to Sweden’s bid to join the defence alliance, hoping Stockholm’s accession would be finalised “as soon as possible”.
Pressure is building on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to give Sweden’s Nato membership his blessing ahead of a summit planned for July in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“Membership will make Sweden safer but also make Nato and Turkey stronger,” Mr Stoltenberg told journalists in Istanbul on Sunday after meeting with Mr Erdogan and his newly appointed foreign minister Hakan Fidan, who was previously head of the intelligence agency.
“I look forward to finalising Sweden’s accession as soon as possible,” he said.
On Saturday, Mr Stoltenberg attended the inauguration of Mr Erdogan, who was re-elected to serve another five years in a lavish ceremony joined by dozens of world leaders in the capital Ankara.
Nato member Turkey has dragged its feet over admitting Sweden to the military alliance. Hungary and Turkey are the only two Nato countries yet to ratify Sweden’s membership. Sweden and Finland dropped decades of military non-alignment and applied to join the alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland formally joined Nato in April.
Mr Erdogan has accused Sweden of being a haven for terrorists, especially members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group blacklisted by Turkey and its Western allies.
“Sweden has taken significant concrete steps to meet Turkey’s concerns,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “This includes amending the Swedish constitution, ending arms embargo, stepping up counter-terrorism operations including against the PKK,” he said. “Sweden has fulfilled its obligations.”
Tobias Billstrom, Sweden’s foreign minister, also said that Stockholm had fulfilled “all the commitments” to join Nato and urged Turkey and Hungary to allow his country into the alliance. Ankara is especially displeased with anti-Turkey and anti-Erdogan protests in Stockholm. Swedish authorities allowed a “No to Nato, No Erdogan Laws in Sweden” demonstration to go ahead in the city centre on Sunday.
“Freedom of assembly and expression are core values in democratic societies. But we should remember why these are taking place,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “Organisers of these demonstrations want to block Sweden’s accession to Nato and undermine its collaboration with Turkey against terrorism and weaken Nato,” the head of Nato added. “We should not allow them to succeed.”
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