Erdogan Says Sweden Shouldn’t Expect Turkish Support for NATO Bid

ISTANBUL — High-level talks on Wednesday in Turkey aimed at bridging differences over Sweden’s application to join NATO ended with no progress being announced.

Before the meeting, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey showed little sign publicly of easing his opposition to the Nordic nation’s membership, a dispute that has strained his ties with Western allies amid the war in Ukraine.

The talks between Mr. Erdogan and senior officials from Finland, Sweden and NATO were the first since the Turkish president secured re-election last month, and Turkey’s allies were watching closely for signs that Mr. Erdogan’s position on Sweden’s application — which he has so far blocked — has changed.

After the meeting, the Turkish government said in a statement that the discussions would continue, while Sweden’s chief negotiator, Oscar Sternstrom, told reporters that “Turkey is not ready to make a decision yet.” There was no date set for another meeting.

In comments published in the Turkish news media on Wednesday as the meeting began, Mr. Erdogan said that Sweden should expect no change in Turkey’s position as long as pro-Kurdish protests continued to be held in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

Turkey wants a tougher stance toward pro-Kurdish activists and members of an outlawed religious group whom Turkey considers terrorists.

“This is not a constitutional matter, not a legal matter,” Mr. Erdogan told Turkish reporters on a flight returning from Azerbaijan on Tuesday, referring to steps Sweden had taken to address Turkey’s concerns. “What is the use of law enforcement?”

Sweden and Finland both applied to join NATO after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February last year, but Turkey has hobbled the expansion process, accusing the two Nordic nations of not taking Turkey’s security concerns seriously. In April, Turkey allowed Finland to join NATO, but it has so far refused to do the same for Sweden, accusing it of not meeting Turkey’s demands.

Finland and Sweden have amended their terrorism legislation and a small number of people accused of crimes in Turkey have been extradited, but many fewer than Turkey has asked for.

Hungary is the only other NATO member that has not allowed Sweden to join. New members of the alliance must be accepted by all members.

Last week, NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, renewed his call for Turkey to let Sweden join the alliance after failing to reach a breakthrough in talks in Istanbul.

“Sweden has fulfilled its obligations,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, adding that it had lifted an arms embargo on Turkey, strengthened its antiterrorism legislation and amended its constitution.

President Biden said that he had raised the issue with Mr. Erdogan during a call last month to congratulate him on his presidential victory. “I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden, so let’s get that done,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House.

Optimism had been growing that Sweden might be able to join before a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, next month, but analysts said that may now be unlikely.

“In terms of the negotiations, it was make or break, and it just broke in terms of getting Sweden into NATO by the Vilnius summit,” said Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University.

Christina Anderson contributed reporting.

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