• Turkish legislators have started debating a long-delayed bill to approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO.
  • Turkey, a NATO member, had delayed ratifying Sweden’s accession for over a year, citing concerns about Sweden’s approach to security threats.
  • Last month, the foreign affairs committee gave consent to Sweden’s bid in the first legislative stage.

Turkish legislators on Tuesday began debating a long-delayed bill to approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO, in a step that could remove a major hurdle for the previously nonaligned Nordic country’s entry into the military alliance.

Turkey, a NATO member, has been dragging its feet on ratifying Sweden’s accession for more than a year, accusing the country of being too lenient toward groups it regards as security threats. It has been seeking concessions from Sweden, including a tougher stance toward Kurdish militants and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.

Turkey has also been angered by a series of demonstrations by supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Sweden as well as Quran-burning protests that roiled Muslim countries.

HERE’S WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT TURKEY’S DECISION TO MOVE FORWARD WITH SWEDEN’S BID TO JOIN NATO

Last month, parliament’s foreign affairs committee gave its consent to Sweden’s bid in the first stage of the legislative process, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent its accession protocol to lawmakers for approval.

People shout during protest

People shout slogans during a protest against Sweden’s NATO membership in Istanbul, Turkey, on Jan. 23, 2024. Turkish legislators plan to vote Tuesday on Sweden’s bid to join NATO in a step that could remove a major hurdle for the previously nonaligned Nordic country’s entry into the military alliance. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies command a majority in parliament and the protocol was expected to be approved in a vote later on Tuesday. It will come into effect after its publication in the country’s Official Gazette, which was expected to be swift.

Arguing in favor of Sweden’s membership last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar cited steps Sweden had taken to meet Turkish demands, including lifting restrictions on defense industry sales and amending anti-terrorism laws.

Sweden has pledged deeper cooperation with Turkey on counterterrorism and to support Turkey’s ambition to revive its EU membership bid.

Turkey’s main opposition party also supports Sweden’s membership in the alliance but a center-right party indicated it would oppose it.

“Sweden’s steps concerning its extradition of wanted criminals or the fight against terrorism have remained limited and insufficient,” Musavat Dervisoglu, a legislator from Good Party told parliament.

Erdogan has linked ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership to the U.S. Congress’ approval of a Turkish request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet. He has also urged Canada and other NATO allies to lift arms embargoes on Turkey.

TURKISH AUTHORITIES INVESTIGATE 8 BODIES THAT WASHED UP ON MEDITERRANEAN COAST, INCLUDING AT A RESORT

Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming NATO’s 31st member, after Turkey’s parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.

Hungary has also stalled Sweden’s bid, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy. Hungary has said it would not be the last to approve accession, although it was not clear when the Hungarian parliament intends to hold a vote.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced Tuesday that he sent a letter to his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, inviting him to Budapest to discuss Sweden’s entry into NATO.

NATO requires the unanimous approval of all existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary were the only countries that have been holding out, frustrating other NATO allies who had been pressing for Sweden and Finland’s swift accession.

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