Sweden’s NATO Membership Progress Hindered by Remaining Gaps, Stoltenberg Says

Swedish admission to NATO ‘making progress,’ says alliance head Stoltenberg

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced on Thursday that Sweden and Turkey have made some progress in their talks regarding Sweden’s entry into NATO, despite objections from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, significant gaps still exist between the two countries’ positions, leading to further discussions between their leaders scheduled for the following week. Stoltenberg expressed hope that the gaps can be bridged before the upcoming NATO summit in Lithuania on July 11-12.

In an effort to address the remaining issues, Stoltenberg, Erdogan, and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson will hold talks in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Monday, just before the summit. Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of Sweden’s full membership for the security interests of all allies and the need to conclude the process promptly. While progress has been made, there are unresolved issues that will be addressed during the weekend.

The hopes of Sweden’s entry into NATO before the summit have been significantly diminished, as only Turkey and Hungary have delayed its membership. The other 29 allies, Stoltenberg, and Sweden have all acknowledged that Sweden has met the requirements set by Turkey. Sweden has implemented constitutional changes, amended anti-terror laws, and lifted the arms embargo on Turkey, among other concessions.

However, Turkey accuses Sweden of being too lenient towards groups it deems a security threat, such as Kurdish militants and individuals associated with the 2016 coup attempt. The expansion of NATO requires unanimous approval from all 31 members, and Turkey’s concerns have yet to be fully addressed.

While progress is being made diplomatically, recent events have added to the tension. Prior to the meeting, a Turkish man in Sweden was found guilty of attempted aggravated extortion, weapons possession, and attempted terrorist financing on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. This sentencing marked the first time a Swedish court had sentenced someone for terrorist financing of the party. The impact of this court action on Erdogan’s perspective remains uncertain.

Apart from Turkey, Hungary’s concerns regarding Sweden’s candidacy have not been clearly stated. Nevertheless, NATO officials anticipate that Hungary will follow suit once Turkey lifts its objections.

The recent Quran-burning protest outside a mosque in Stockholm has further strained relations between Sweden and Turkey. While the protest was permitted by the police, citing freedom of speech, Erdogan criticized Sweden for allowing such an act. The incident, along with Erdogan’s previous criticism of Sweden, has added to the complexities of resolving the issues surrounding Sweden’s NATO membership.

Despite repeated discussions and meetings between Stoltenberg and Erdogan, it remains unclear what Turkey specifically wants from Sweden. Stoltenberg, however, stated his understanding of Erdogan’s requests, as they have engaged in detailed discussions on the matter.

Overall, although progress has been made, there are still significant hurdles to overcome before Sweden’s admission to NATO can be finalized. The upcoming talks in Vilnius will play a crucial role in bridging the remaining gaps and addressing Turkey’s concerns.

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