ANKARA, Turkey >> Turkey appreciates Sweden’s steps so far to get approval to join NATO but it is not even “halfway” through fulfilling the commitments it made to secure Ankara’s support, the Turkish foreign minister said Thursday.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a Swedish court’s decision not to extradite a man wanted by Turkey for alleged links to a 2016 failed coup had “poisoned” a positive atmosphere in negotiations on Sweden’s membership in the military alliance.
Sweden and Finland dropped their longstanding policies of military nonalignment this year and decided to apply to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move requires the unanimous approval of the alliance’s current 30 members.
Turkey has held up the process while pressing the two Nordic countries to crack down on groups it considers to be terrorist organizations and to extradite people suspected of terror-related crimes.
The parliaments of 28 NATO countries have already ratified Sweden and Finland’s membership. Turkey and Hungary are the only members that haven’t yet given their approval.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström, Cavusoglu said the Turkish government still was waiting for a “concrete development” on extraditions and asset freezes. Also,some Turkish defense companies were not able to procure some equipment from Sweden despite the lifting of a weapons ban, he added.
“There is a document, it needs to be implemented. We’re not even at the halfway point yet. We’re at the beginning,” he said, referring to a memorandum of understanding which Turkey, Sweden and Finland signed in June.
Under the memorandum, the two countries agreed to address Turkey’s security concerns, including requests for the deportation and extradition of Kurdish militants and people linked to a network run by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. The Turkish government accuses Gulen of masterminding the 2016 coup attempt, which he denies.
Billström’s visit came days after Sweden’s top court refused to extradite journalist Bulent Kenes, whom Turkey accuses of being among the coup plotters. Kenes, who received asylum in Sweden, was the editor of the English-language Today’s Zaman newspaper, which was owned by the Gulen network and the government closed down as part of its crackdown on the group.
“The negotiations ( between Turkey and Sweden ) were continuing in a constructive way,” Cavusoglu said. “But this last (incident), the rejection of Kenes’ extradition, unfortunately, seriously poisoned this atmosphere.”
Billström reiterated that Sweden was determined to fulfill its commitments and said Stockholm was in the process of strengthening its anti-terrorism legislation.
A constitutional amendment will enter into force on Jan. 1 that restricts the freedom of association of groups that engage in or support terrorism, he said.
The Swedish government also plans to introduce legislation that further impedes people taking part in the activities of terrorist groups, Billström said.
“My message to Minister Cavusoglu and to the Turkish people is clear: Sweden keeps its promises. We take the agreement seriously. We have initiated steps on every paragraph and we will continue to implement it,” the Swedish minister said.
Billström later told The Associated Press by phone that Sweden has underlined that cases such as Kenes’ are handled by independent courts.
“We are bound by this decision, and that is how it is,” he said.
Billström said conversations between Sweden and Turkey were taking place at multiple levels of government and that Ankara acknowledged Sweden had made strides in meeting the memorandum’s terms.
He could not give a time frame for when Turkey might be ready to approve Sweden’s NATO membership.
“Meetings are held in a good spirit,” he said. “We are heading in the right direction. We will gradually fulfill this memorandum.”
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