Joe Biden will try to nail down a four-nation agreement that would lead to Turkey allowing Sweden into Nato in exchange for the sale of US F-16 jets to Ankara, on the condition that they are not used to threaten Greece.
But Recep Tayyip Erdoğan put a surprise obstacle in the way of Biden’s plan by announcing that he wanted Turkey’s stalled application to join the EU to be included in the package. Speaking at the airport before leaving for the Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the Turkish president said: “First, let’s give Turkey a path to the European Union, and then let’s give Sweden a path like we did in Finland. “
Erdoğan’s comments suggest that efforts on the eve of a summit of diplomats to lift Turkey’s year-old veto on Sweden’s Nato membership may be more complicated than imagined. Turkey has been talking about joining the EU in one form or another since 1987 but has been reluctant to allow a large country with a questionable human rights record to join.
The US president held more last-minute talks with Erdoğan on his flight to Europe on Sunday but no breakthrough occurred during their nearly hour-long conversation, according to the White House.
Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor rejected Erdoğan’s attempt to link Turkey’s EU membership aspirations to Sweden’s application to join Nato. “That is a question that is not related to the other issue, and therefore I think it should not be seen as a relevant matter,” said Scholz in Berlin.
Erdoğan expressed repeated frustration at what he called Sweden’s failure to live up to its promise to deal with suspected Kurdish militants who are said to be “roaming the streets” of Stockholm.
“Sweden has taken some steps in the right direction,” Erdoğan’s office quoted the Turkish leader as telling Biden in a call on Sunday. But Sweden’s decision to allow pro-Kurdish groups to “hold demonstrations freely praising terrorism nullifies the measures”, Erdoğan said.
Over the weekend, the link between Sweden’s Nato membership and the Turkish demand for the US Congress to allow the sale of F-16 jets to Turkey became clearer, as well as the conditions under which Congress would approve the sale.
On Monday, Erdoğan will meet the prime minister of Sweden, Ulf Kristersson, in a meeting chaired by the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. In Vilnius he is scheduled to meet with Biden and also hold his first meeting with the prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, in 15 months.
Formally, the Swedish bid to follow Finland to Nato remains linked to Erdoğan’s request to do more to clamp down on Kurdish activists in Sweden, including the extraditing of a group of Kurdish exiles who are seen as suspected terrorists in Ankara. Some of those on the list for extradition are Swedish citizens, and cannot be extradited.
The Swedish foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said on Monday: “No one can dispute that Sweden has done what we also hope to do, according to this memorandum, including taking the steps that now lead to of people active in the PKK (the Kurdish workers’ party) punished by Swedish courts. On Thursday, a Swedish court convicted a PKK member and extradited a PKK supporter to the country in Turkey.
He said that Sweden’s membership in Nato is a settled issue and the only unusual thing is when the joining will happen.
Observers noted that even if given the green light by Erdoğan, the Turkish parliament would not ratify Sweden’s membership at the end of the summit.
Behind the dispute is Turkey’s long-standing demand to be allowed to buy US F-16 jets, something Congress has opposed because of Turkey’s hostility to Greece and its purchase of an air defense system in Russia – a move seen by some as incompatible with Turkish membership in Nato.
Biden said he now supports the sale of F-16s to Turkey but it is not in his power to authorize the sale because Congress has a veto.
Greece has demanded guarantees that F-16 jets will not be used against Athens as part of an ongoing maritime dispute in the Aegean Sea, with daily overflights over islands that question Greece’s sovereignty.
Six US lawmakers sent a letter to the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, asking for a monitoring mechanism to ensure that Turkey does not use the new F-16 fighters to violate Greek sovereignty in the Aegean.
They noted that if an agreement to sell F-16s and modernization kits to Turkey is being considered, “we strongly urge that any final agreement include mechanisms to stop, delay or withdraw the transfer of such weapons if Turkey engages in actions that threaten or undermine US national security interests and the unity of the NATO alliance”.
There are some signs that after his re-election in May, Erdoğan is trying to soften some of Turkey’s many international disputes and a key test is whether he can achieve a rapprochement with Greece.
Erdogan’s decision to release some former commanders of the Ukrainian garrison in Mariupol in apparent violation of an agreement with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was seen as a goodwill gesture in the west.