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Turkey holds up NATO defense strategy over straits amid Sweden standoff

As the July NATO summit approaches, Turkish demands over the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, among other issues, are reportedly holding up a defense strategy overhaul, the most ambitious since the end of the Cold War.
Ferries and tourist boats navigate the Bosphorus on June 22, 2023 in Istanbul, Turkey.

With two weeks left before NATO's forthcoming summit in Vilnius next month, Al-Monitor has learned Turkey is upping its demands for the alliance's defense strategy, requesting that critical waterways connecting the Black Sea to the Aegean be referred to as the “Turkish Straits” rather than the "Straits." 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also continues to pressure Sweden to crack down on alleged Kurdish terrorist sympathizers as a precondition for ratifying the Nordic country’s addition to the alliance.

In a phone call with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday, Erdogan said that Ankara was engaging constructively with Sweden but that the latter’s stiffening of its anti-terror legislation was “meaningless” so long as supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party and its Syrian affiliates were permitted to stage demonstrations against Turkey in the Swedish capital. Stoltenberg announced today that a high-level delegation led by Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and including intelligence officials would meet with their Swedish counterparts to assess whether further progress could be made ahead of the Brussels summit. No date was announced.

As diplomats race to predict whether Erdogan will cave at the last minute and greenlight Sweden’s membership at the summit set for July 11-12 in the Lithuanian capital, Turkey is piling separate demands on the alliance itself that threaten to hold up its new defense strategy, the most ambitious overhaul to be drafted since the end of the Cold War. The effort has gained added urgency in the wake of Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

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