Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Commission has not received Sweden’s NATO membership ratification bid agreement in October as was expected upon the opening of parliament, Reuters reported. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is holding out for the United States to realign with Turkey over the purchase of F-16 modernisation kits, sources told the news agency.
Turkey, Sweden and the US have been in a three-way diplomatic head-to-head since NATO expansion efforts began when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The controversial arms deal immediately came to the foreground as US Senator Bob Menendez, who has now stepped down, was blocking the sale of the fighter jet upgrades. Erdoğan’s veto of Sweden’s NATO accession became tied up in the push for the arms trade completion.
Additionally, Turkey listed a raft of demands for Sweden to ratify in return for backing the Nordic country’s bid to join NATO. Extradition of Turkish nationals linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been a main contention point, and although Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson promised to fulfil agreed counter-terrorism measures, actions to date have not met President Erdoğan’s expectations.
A “lack of trust” is evident between Turkey and Sweden over the issue, an official from Turkey’s ruling justice and Development Party (AKP) said, according to Reuters.
Sweden’s bid was eventually sent to the Turkish parliament in July to await ratification, and although Erdoğan has insisted that technically the decision lies with parliament, the process has not yet moved forward. A month later, Erdoğan was outspoken on his position of leverage over backing Sweden in return for securing the major arms deal with the US.
“If they [the US] keep their promises, our parliament will keep its own promise as well,” he told the Turkish media in September, Reuters reported.
Diplomatic tensions were further complicated earlier in October when the PKK claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in Ankara. Turkey immediately launched an offensive into Kurdish-led areas of Syria and Iraq. As the airstrikes began to lacerate civilian targets, the US shot down a Turkish drone.
US-Turkey relations have been doubly compounded since the start of the most recent Israel-Gaza war on 7 October. The two NATO giants have conflicting positions on the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In September, Menendez was forced to temporarily relinquish his duties under the shadow of a corruption scandal, though the Senator denies the allegations. Erdoğan responded, “Menendez being out of the picture is an advantage”, according to Reuters.
Menendez’s successor Senator Ben Cardin said he will talk to the Biden administration about the F-16 deal, “but there are other issues in addition to just NATO accession”. Turkey’s dire human rights record and democratic failures remain a concern to US lawmakers.