ANKARA — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is set to travel to Turkey to attend President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s inauguration ceremony on Saturday, as part of a fresh charm offensive by the defense alliance to convince Ankara to admit Sweden.
Stoltenberg will also meet with Erdogan and senior Turkish officials during his two-day visit, according to an official announcement by NATO.
Stoltenberg and Bildt in Turkey
The visit marks a fresh push by NATO and Stockholm to finalize Sweden’s accession to the North Atlantic alliance before the bloc’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 11-12. Along with Stoltenberg, Swedish former premier and friend of Turkey Carl Bildt will also attend the inauguration to represent Sweden, Stockholm announced on Friday. Bildt, who was one of the top backers of Turkey's European Union membership bid during his early years as the Swedish foreign minister, is widely respected in the Turkish diplomatic circles.
Ankara has been blocking Sweden's accession to the alliance, citing its unmet national security concerns. The expansion requires consensus among all 30 member states. Turkey and Hungary remain the sole holdouts that have not ratified the Swedish bid, even after Ankara allowed Finland's membership to go through in March.
The visit comes on the heels of a new Swedish counterterrorism law, the latest of a series of steps that Stockholm has taken to address Ankara's national security demands. “With the new terrorism legislation entering into force June 1, we deliver on the last part of our agreement with [Turkey],” a tweet from the official account of the Swedish prime minister read.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom also tweeted that the show of solidarity extended to his country during a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Oslo on Thursday was a clear message to Turkey and Hungary to ratify the Nordic country’s membership.
The statement prompted a counter-tweet from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu who didn’t attend the meeting due to his post-election engagements. “A crystal clear message to our Swedish Friends! Fulfill your commitments,” Cavusoglu wrote, calling on Stockholm to take concrete steps to address his country’s concerns.
Striking a centered position, State Secretary Antony Blinken, in turn, said it was Turkey’s credit to be able to focus all the alliance on some of its “very legitimate”, security concerns, but added that Sweden took very “significant steps” to address these. “From the perspective of the United States, the time is now to finalize Sweden’s accession,” Blinken said, speaking alongside Swedish Premier Ulf Kristersson in Sweden earlier this week.
Sweden also lifted the de facto defense sales restrictions on Turkey and amended its constitution to strengthen its counterterrorism law last year in a bid to address Ankara’s concerns. Yet, Ankara presses that Stockholm has yet to fully agree to stricter restrictions on the activities of groups that it deems “terrorists” and extradition of dozens of people over their alleged ties to terrorism. The extradition demand stands out as the most contentious issue in the negotiations between Ankara and Stockholm.
Despite Turkey’s apparent stringent approach, the standoff will likely resolve before the Vilnius summit, analysts and experts agree.
Resolution before July?
According to Fatih Ceylan, Turkey’s former NATO envoy who currently heads Ankara-based think tank Ankara Policy Centre, “Now that the elections are also over and given the legal steps taken by Sweden, the Turkish side will prefer to go to Vilnius with this issue resolved,” Ceylan told Al-Monitor, adding that Turkey could continue to raise its security concerns after Sweden becomes a NATO member, “although its bargaining chips will not be as strong as it is now.”
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Turkey probably is not likely to get all of its demands met before removing veto on Sweden's membership.
"Turkey would probably not expect everything to be done before greenlighting Sweden’s accession,” he said.
But the expert warned against potential faux pas or provocations on part of Sweden.
Cagaptay also noted that Turkey does not appear convinced that the Biden administration would move forward with Ankara's bid to buy new F-16 jets and modernization kits if it admits Sweden.
Blinken said on Wednesday, "While we are not linking the two issues when I say 'we,' I mean the Biden administration — some members of Congress are." The administration publicly announced its support of the Turkish F-16 bid, but the process requires the nod of the Congress.