The entire Western establishment having failed to persuade Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to allow Sweden’s NATO membership, there is growing speculation that Turkey is pushing the negotiations towards greater concessions, including increased manoeuvrability in addressing the Kurdish issue.
After the latest failed attempt to convince Turkey on Sweden’s NATO membership at the tri-partite meeting held in Brussels on Thursday, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the participants have agreed to meet again on Monday, the day before the 11-12 July Vilnius summit in Lithuania.
Observers, formerly attributing Erdoğan’s tough stance on Sweden’s NATO membership to his desire to appeal to the nationalist base ahead of Turkey’s May elections, are now re-evaluating their assessments as his post-election position remains unchanged. There is growing speculation that Turkey is pushing the negotiations towards broader concessions than originally thought, including greater manoeuvrability in addressing the Kurdish issue by any means it deems necessary.
“Turkey […] wants to strike a grand bargain with Berlin, Brussels and Washington on issues pertaining to larger foreign and security policy agendas,” said Prof Ahmet Kasim Han, a professor of international relations at Beykoz University in Istanbul, to the New York Times on Thursday.
Sweden and Finland submitted applications to join NATO last year, but they faced objections from Turkey, which claimed that the Nordic countries were harbouring members of both the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement.
Turkey lifted its objection to Finland’s NATO membership earlier this year, and the country became NATO’s 31st member state in April. Turkey continued to block Sweden’s NATO bid, however.
Stoltenberg noted that Sweden had made constitutional amendments, enacted new anti-terrorism legislation, lifted restrictions on arms exports to Turkey and enhanced counter-terrorism cooperation, including making efforts against the PKK. Sweden even prosecuted an individual for an alleged attempt to finance the organisation.
Yet these efforts still fall short of convincing Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said after Thursday’s meeting that “Sweden has taken steps in terms of legislative changes, but legislative changes need to be reflected in practice… If terrorist organisations such as PKK, FETÖ [Fethullah Gülen supporters] and their affiliated structures can continue their demonstrations on the streets of Sweden, if they can recruit personnel, if they can access financial resources, the legislative change has no meaning.” He also painted Stoltenberg’s defence that Sweden has fulfilled all the commitments in the Trilateral Memorandum as an unsubstantiated claim that requires scrutiny.