Turkey agreed on Monday to clear the way for Sweden to join NATO, a dramatic reversal just hours after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the European Union should advance his country’s bid first. to join the EU bloc.
NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, announced Turkey’s decision from Vilnius, Lithuania, where the alliance was preparing to open its annual summit on Tuesday.
Mr. Stoltenberg said that Mr. Erdogan has removed his objections to Sweden’s entry into the alliance and will bring the country’s bid to his Parliament for ratification as soon as possible.
In return, Sweden and Turkey will continue to work bilaterally against terrorism, Sweden will help revitalize Turkey’s application to join the European Union, and NATO will establish a new “special coordinator for counter-terrorism, ” he said.
The two countries agreed that “counterterrorism cooperation is a long-term effort, which will continue beyond Sweden’s entry into NATO,” a statement of the alliance said.
“It’s good for all of us,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. “It’s good for Sweden – Sweden will be a full member – and it’s good for Turkey because Turkey is a NATO ally that will benefit from a stronger NATO.”
The statement said that Mr. Erdogan met on Monday with Mr. Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Sweden to discuss the country’s bid, which has been blocked by Turkish demands that Sweden crack down on dissidents Turkey considers terrorists, including pro-Kurdish activists. and members of a religious group accused in Turkey of plotting the 2016 coup attempt.
“This is a good day for Sweden,” Mr. Kristersson told reporters, saying the joint statement represented “a big step” toward the final ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership.
Hungary is the only other NATO member that has yet to approve Sweden’s bid, but Hungarian officials have said that if Turkey’s position changes, they cannot stop the process.
President Biden, who arrived in Vilnius on Monday, said in a statement that he accepted Mr. Erdogan’s commitment to submit Sweden’s bid for “prompt ratification” to the Turkish Parliament.
“I am ready to work with President Erdogan and Turkey to improve defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Mr. Biden said. He also thanked Mr. Stoltenberg in his “strong leadership” and added that he looks forward to welcoming Mr. Kristersson and Sweden as the 32nd member of the alliance.
The request of Mr. Erdogan on EU membership – a day before the opening of the two-day NATO summit – appeared to build a new barrier to the admission of Sweden, a major manufacturer of artillery, aircraft and other weapons of significant geographic value that allow control of the airspace over the Baltic Sea.
Sweden’s application is expected to be the central topic of the meeting, where NATO leaders are expected to show their unity and resolve 16 months of total Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kyiv, too, is seeking to join the alliance — although leaders, including Mr. Biden, have said it should wait until the fighting ends.
Turkey applied to join the European Union in 1987, but there has been little progress in its bid since 2016, when the European Parliament voted to suspend accession talks amid criticism a broad crackdown by the Turkish government on political opponents after a failed coup against Mr. Erdogan.
“First, clear the way for Turkey in the European Union, then we will clear the way for Sweden as we did for Finland,” Mr. Erdogan told reporters before traveling to the summit, referring to the decision of his country to drop objections to the application. of Finland, which joined the alliance in April.
Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year, following the Russian invasion. At a NATO summit in Madrid last year, officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland outlined measures that would ensure Turkey’s support – an important requirement, as all NATO countries must agree. to accept new members.
In recent months, Sweden has been trying to meet Turkey’s demands, amending its Constitution, passing a new anti-terrorism law and agreeing to extradite several Turkish accused. of crimes in Turkey. But Swedish courts have blocked other extraditions, and Swedish officials say they can’t curb free speech protections in their country.
Mr. Erdogan went on to say that Sweden must do more.
A new complication emerged last month, after a man burned a Quran in public at a protest in Stockholm on a major Muslim holiday that Mr. Erdogan called on Sweden to allow the protest and said that the Swedish authorities must fight Islamophobia, although it is not yet among the issues that Sweden and Turkey have agreed to solve.
But the collapse on the eve of the summit could mean Sweden could join the alliance in short order. Turkey’s Parliament is in session until July 27, and the body only needed two weeks to approve Finland’s bid after Mr. Erdogan agreed to support it in March.
Ben Hubbard reported from Istanbul, and Lara Jakes and Steven Erlanger from Vilnius, Lithuania Slide Harman contributed to reporting form Istanbul, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.