Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he cannot endorse the bid of Sweden to join the NATO military alliance as long as the two Nordic countries continue to lend support to terrorist groups against his country.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday announced that Finland and Sweden have officially applied to join the world’s biggest military alliance, a move driven by security concerns over Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
Turkey, a member of NATO since 1952, has accused Sweden, and to some extent Finland, of providing sanctuary to elements linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as well as the Gulen movement, which Ankara accuses of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt.
Both groups are considered “terrorist” groups by Turkey. The PKK is also on the “terrorist” lists of the US and the EU.
Erdogan underlined Ankara’s need to protect its borders from terror groups, saying whatever the conditions, Turkey cannot turn its back on them.
“Our only expectation from NATO allies is... to first understand our sensitivity, respect, and finally support it,” Erdogan told lawmakers in the parliament on Wednesday. “We asked them to extradite 30 terrorists but they refused to do so.”
Turkey's justice ministry sources were quoted as saying by state-run news agency Anadolu on Monday that Sweden and Finland had failed to respond positively to Turkey’s 33 extradition requests during the past five years.
The two Nordic countries' support of the PKK group has again pitted Ankara against the military alliance, making its objections to their NATO bid clear.
“You will not send back the terrorists to us and then ask our support for your NATO membership ... We cannot say 'yes' to make this security organization lacking in security," the Turkish leader said.
“We are sensitive about protecting our borders against attacks from terror organizations.”
Erdogan said NATO allies had never supported his country in its fight against Kurdish militant groups, adding that the military alliance's expansion was "only meaningful for us in proportion to the respect that will be shown to our sensitivities".
Turkish leader accused NATO allies of supporting terrorists, referring to their arms deliveries for the YPG, the main source of disagreement between Ankara and Washington.
“Yet, this doesn’t mean that we will say ‘yes’ to every proposal brought before us. NATO’s enlargement is meaningful to us only to the extent that our sensitivities are respected. Asking us for support for NATO membership while providing every kind of support to the PKK/YPG terrorist organization amounts to incoherence, to say the least,” he said.
He further said that he was not willing to receive Swedish or Finnish delegations in Ankara for consultations.
“They want to come on Monday. They shouldn’t bother. There’s no need.”
All 30 NATO members should unanimously agree for the two historically neutral countries to join the alliance.