ISTANBUL – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that the European Union must pave the way for Turkey to join the bloc before Turkey allows Sweden to join NATO, adding a new surprise situation that could prevent the military alliance from expanding.
Erdogan’s latest demands came a day before the opening of NATO’s two-day annual summit, where leaders, including President Biden, hoped member states would get approval. allowing Sweden to become the 32nd member.
The outcome now seems unlikely, with Mr Erdogan signaling an obstacle to Sweden’s membership.
“First, open the way to Turkey in the European Union, then we will open the way to Sweden like we did in Finland,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters before going to the NATO meeting.
The leaders of the European Union and the NATO member states will not respond well, because they are separate organizations with many more members but different goals. Turkey applied to join the European Union in 1987, but has made no progress in its bid since 2016, when the European Parliament voted to suspend negotiations while criticizing the Turkish government’s massive crackdown on political opponents after the failed impeachment of Mr. Erdogan.
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said on Monday that he supports Turkey’s desire to join the European Union, but it was not one of the things that the leaders of Turkey, Sweden and Finland established last year at the NATO summit in Madrid.
“We have to remember that what we agreed on in Madrid was a list of things that Sweden had to meet in order to become a full member of the alliance, and Sweden has fulfilled it,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters in Lithuania.
Sweden applied to join NATO last year, after Russia annexed Ukraine. All NATO countries must agree to accept new members, a rule that has given Mr. Erdogan a big chance of approval.
Turkey has accused Sweden of giving asylum to dissidents it considers terrorists, including Kurdish freedom fighters and members of a sect that Turkey accuses of plotting a 2016 coup.
In recent months, Sweden has tried to meet Turkey’s demands, reforming its constitution, introducing new anti-terrorism laws and agreeing to extradite several Turkish nationals accused of crimes in Turkey. But Swedish courts have blocked the extradition, and Swedish officials say they cannot ignore their country’s protection of free speech.
Mr. Erdogan continues to say that Sweden must do more.
A new crisis erupted late last month when a man publicly burned the Koran at a demonstration in Stockholm during a major Muslim holiday. Mr. Erdogan criticized Sweden for allowing the protests and said that the Swedish authorities must fight Islamophobia, even though it was not one of the things that Sweden agreed with Turkey to combat.
Hungary is the only other NATO member that has not accepted Sweden’s invitation, but Hungarian officials have said that if Turkey changes, they will not block the project. Finland worked at the same time as Sweden, but defeated Turkey’s opposition for the first time joined the alliance in April.
By linking Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, Mr. Erdogan threw another challenge into the alliance’s negotiations less than 24 hours before NATO leaders are expected to gather in Vilnius, Lithuania, for their annual meeting. On Sunday, President Biden spoke with Mr. Erdogan and told him of his “desire to welcome Sweden into NATO as soon as possible,” according to a transcript of the call. issued by the White House.
Before going to the meeting, Erdogan said on Monday that Sweden could not expect to join until it met all of Turkey’s demands regarding terrorism.
“No one should expect to tolerate or understand me,” he said.
Gulsin Harman contributed reports.