Sweden failed on Thursday to convince Turkey to lift its block on Stockholm’s path to NATO membership, and the issue will now go to a meeting of the Turkish and Swedish leaders next week.
Speaking after talks with the Turkish and Swedish foreign ministers at the security alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Swedish membership was “within reach”.
Stoltenberg said he would convene a meeting between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Vilnius on Monday, on the eve of a NATO summit there, with the aim of bridging the gap between the two sides.
“My main ambition is now to get this agreed by the summit,” he told reporters.
Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year, abandoning policies of military non-alignment that had lasted through the decades of the Cold War as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threw Europe’s security architecture into flux.
Membership application to the alliance must be approved by all NATO members and while Finland’s was green-lighted in April, Turkey and Hungary have yet to clear Sweden’s bid. Stockholm has been working to join at next week’s NATO summit in Vilnius.
Turkey says Sweden harbours members of militant groups, mainly supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who he accuses of organising demonstrations and financing terrorist groups.
Sweden has said it has fulfilled the demands agreed on in negotiations with Turkey, including introducing a new bill that makes being a member of a terrorist organization illegal.
“We are hoping and looking for a positive decision next week,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters in Brussels. “The process is continuing and we of course are working very intensively the coming days in order for us to become member of NATO.”
Earlier on Thursday, a Swedish court found a man guilty of attempting to finance the PKK, which is deemed a terrorist group in the United States and the European Union, including Sweden.
Stoltenberg on Thursday endorsed Sweden’s view that it had fulfilled all the undertakings it made to Ankara.
But Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Sweden needed to show its legal amendments were being applied.
“Sweden took some steps regarding legal changes, removed defence industry restrictions against Turkey… The legal changes should be put into practice now,” Fidan told reporters.
On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden received Swedish Prime Minister Kristersson in the White House in a show of support for Stockholm while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Turkish counterpart Fidan to encourage Turkey to support Sweden’s membership bid.
Biden and Erdogan may meet during next week’s NATO summit in Lithuania, sources briefed on the planning said.