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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Erdogan issues ‘red lines’ for Swedish NATO membership

Stockholm must take additional steps against terrorist groups and Islamophobia, the president said

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested his country is not prepared to allow Sweden to join the NATO bloc, accusing Stockholm of sheltering terrorist militants and facilitating hate crimes against Muslims.

Speaking soon after a cabinet meeting on Monday, Erdogan condemned a recent Koran-burning protest held in the Swedish capital last week, calling it a “cowardly attack” on Islam which “angered us all.” He went on to condemn Sweden’s lax stance toward Kurdish groups Türkiye regards as terrorist factions, saying Ankara could not ratify the country’s NATO application until it took action.

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“We have made it clear that the determined fight against terrorist organizations and Islamophobia are our red line,” Erdogan said. “Everyone must accept that Türkiye’s friendship cannot be won by supporting terrorism or by making space for terrorists.”

Ankara has accused Stockholm of declining to hand over “terrorists” from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and other associated groups, which have been outlawed by Turkish authorities amid decades-long Kurdish insurgency.

While Türkiye was initially reluctant to back NATO membership for both Sweden and Finland, it later dropped its objections for Helsinki. Both Nordic states signed a memorandum with Ankara last year agreeing to address Türkiye’s concerns regarding terrorist groups. Islamophobia was not mentioned in the deal, however.

Erdogan went on to urge Swedish officials to “scrutinize themselves and do their homework better,” adding “Instead of wasting time with distraction tactics, we believe that keeping to the promises will be a more rational, more beneficial method,” referring to last year’s memorandum.

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Though NATO leaders have voiced hopes to ratify Swedish membership before a major summit in Lithuania later this month, Türkiye and Hungary have so far withheld approval. The US-led military bloc requires unanimous consent from all members before new states may join, giving Ankara and Budapest the power to scuttle Sweden’s outstanding application.