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Sweden must take further “concrete steps” against terrorism to clinch Ankara’s support for its Nato bid, Turkey’s vice-president said as the Turkish parliament prepares to take up the Nordic country’s accession request.
Cevdet Yılmaz told the Financial Times that “we don’t see a satisfactory level of implementation” of an agreement last year in which Sweden vowed tougher action against extremist organisations, including a Kurdish militant group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed to Stockholm’s request to join Nato at the military alliance’s Vilnius summit in July, but the Turkish parliament, which reconvenes on Sunday after a summer recess, still needs to ratify Sweden’s accession.
Stockholm ended its longtime policy of neutrality following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, and its request to join Nato has been approved by all of the alliance’s members apart from Turkey and Hungary.
Erdoğan, whose Justice and Development party (AKP) leads a coalition that controls parliament, has repeatedly said that Turkey’s backing for Stockholm’s Nato bid is conditional on Sweden taking actions against people it claims are affiliated with the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), and a religious network it claims was behind a 2016 coup attempt.
“Our parliament is very sensitive about these issues because there is a public opinion in Turkey,” Yılmaz said in an interview at the sprawling presidential compound in Ankara. “If we don’t see enough progress in practice, then the parliament will be under great pressure.”
Yılmaz, a veteran AKP politician and former MP who was appointed vice-president in June, said parliament’s approval would hinge on whether “there are real concrete steps taken against the terrorist groups or individuals that work openly against Turkey”.
Sweden argues that it has already fulfilled the agreement with Turkey, including with a new anti-terrorism law that came into force in June. In the first use of the new legislation, a Swedish court in July sentenced a Turkish man to jail for funding the PKK.
However, sporadic demonstrations in which protesters have held PKK flags in Sweden, a country with extensive protections for freedom of speech and expression, have infuriated Ankara. Erdoğan and his government have also hit out repeatedly at incidents in which demonstrators have burned copies of the Koran publicly in Sweden in recent months.
Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson wrote in the Financial Times in May that Sweden had already taken significant actions against terrorism, but that any measures must be “compatible with the rule of law and democracy”.
Nordic diplomats said Sweden remained confident that Turkey would ratify its application after strong shows of support from Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg and the US. Stoltenberg and Turkey’s foreign minister discussed Nato expansion in a phone call on Friday, according to Turkey’s government.
Sweden’s foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
At the same time, a wave of gang crime in Sweden — which has caused the government to consider using the military to help police — partly stems from an internal conflict in a drug gang run by a Kurd who fled Sweden for Turkey. Several politicians have urged the Swedish government to be more assertive in raising the issue with Turkey, despite the Nato application.
Analysts suggest Sweden’s Nato bid may meanwhile be linked with Turkey’s request to purchase billions of dollars worth of F-16 fighter jets, which has been held up in the US Congress. Erdoğan told state media this week: “I hope that if they [the US] keep their word, our parliament will do the same.”
US senator Robert Menendez, who had been one of the most outspoken critics of Turkey’s F-16 order, stepped down last week as chair of the powerful Senate foreign relations committee after he was indicted on federal bribery charges, which he denies.
Ben Cardin, the new chair, said on Thursday that the F-16 question goes beyond Nato, but that he had been assured by Turkish officials that Ankara would ratify Sweden’s accession to the alliance in the “first half” of October, Reuters reported.