The Swedish government announced its decision to distance itself from Kurdish fighters in North Syria, a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Ankara would not approve Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership if the two countries failed in taking necessary steps.
Ankara threatens to block the two Nordic countries’ NATO membership, demanding them to take action against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and what Turkey sees as PKK-affiliated groups.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in North Syria, which has formed the backbone of US-led coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, is one of the Kurdish groups Ankara claims to be linked to the PKK.
“There is too close a connection between these organisations and the PKK … for it to be good for the relationship between us and Turkey,” Reuters quoted Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom as saying to public service broadcaster Swedish Radio in relation to the YPG.
“The primary objective is Sweden’s membership in NATO,” he said.
Billstrom’s comments came a day after a meeting between Erdoğan and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg in Turkey, during which they discussed the two countries’ NATO bids among other issues.
“President Erdoğan noted that the steps to be taken by Sweden and Finland would determine how fast the approval process… would go and when it would be concluded,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement following the meeting.
Stoltenberg arrived in Turkey on Thursday and organised a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
“Finland and Sweden have delivered on their commitment to Turkey. They have become strong partners in our joint fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” Stoltenberg said during the press conference.
However, Çavuşoğlu said the two countries had not fulfilled commitments made in a trilateral memorandum signed in June to open the way for Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership.
Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, leader of Sweden’s new right-wing government, will travel to Ankara next week to discuss the Nordic country’s bid to join the military alliance.