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Turkey’s Erdoğan Plays Down Sweden’s NATO Hopes

His remarks injected a chill into the growing optimism that Sweden could get the NATO green light soon.

Sweden has still not won Turkey’s support to join NATO ahead of the military alliance’s summit in Vilnius next month, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Wednesday — pouring cold water on rising hopes that a deal might be near. 

“Sweden’s expectations don’t mean we’ll follow them,” Erdoğan said during a trip to Azerbaijan, according to Bloomberg and Turkish media, referring to Stockholm’s aspirations of becoming a NATO member before the alliance’s annual summit in July. 

Erdoğan’s comments were conspicuously timed, coming just as senior officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland met in Ankara to discuss Turkey’s concerns over Sweden’s NATO bid.

Officials had been privately expressing optimism going into the meeting, but there was more caution by the day’s end, as the meeting broke out without a clear signal of progress. 

Still, NATO officials put a positive spin on the talks. Stian Jenssen, director of NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg’s private office, called them “good and constructive” in a statement. 

“Progress is being made, and the atmospherics were positive,” he added. 

Sweden’s NATO bid has been in limbo for months. The Nordic nation initially applied for membership in the wake of Russia launching its war in Ukraine. It applied at the same time as Finland, with the duo initially aiming to join the alliance together.

Eventually, the two countries had to drop that plan, as Finland was eventually ushered in and Sweden was left out in the cold.

The problem has been mostly Turkey. The country has been dragging its feet on approving Sweden’s bid, citing concerns about Stockholm’s support for Kurdish groups which Ankara considers to be terrorist entities — including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has a following in Sweden but is banned in Turkey.

In late May, the Swedish government said it had updated its domestic terrorism legislation to include a veiled reference to the PKK, and made all the necessary commitments to ease Ankara’s concerns — but Erdoğan was still unconvinced.

“Sweden must first of all eradicate what this terrorist organization is doing,” the Turkish president said in his remarks cited on Wednesday. “In this picture, we cannot approach this positively.”

Sweden — and Ukraine’s — accession to NATO will be discussed at the alliance’s next summit, which will be held in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 11-12.

Representatives from Sweden, Turkey and Finland met Wednesday in Ankara to discuss the issue.