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Turkey's President Erdogan gives green light to Sweden's NATO accession bid

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (R) shake hands next to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to their meeting on the eve of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 10, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has given the green light to Sweden's bid to become a member of the NATO military alliance, ending months of tug of war over the issue.

The announcement was made by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a news conference on Monday ahead of the alliance's summit in the
Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius, which starts on Tuesday.

Erdogan had previously conditioned his approval on Sweden dropping its support for Kurdish opposition groups that are considered terrorist outfits by Ankara. He even upped the ante earlier on Monday by saying Turkey's approval of Sweden's NATO bid hinged on revival of his country's European Union membership process.

Turkey also wants Sweden to extradite or expel supporters of the Kurdish militant group, PKK, which is labeled a terrorist organization by the US and the EU, as well as supporters of the Kurdish YPG forces in Syria and followers of the US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan alleges Gulen masterminded the 2016 coup attempt.

"I'm glad to announce ... that President Erdogan has agreed to forward the accession protocol for Sweden to the grand national assembly as soon as possible, and work closely with the assembly to ensure ratification," Stoltenberg told reporters, describing it as a "historic" step.

This came after Sweden and Turkey ironed out their differences at an eleventh-hour meeting attended by Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Vilnius.

A statement issued following the meeting by the two countries said Sweden would stop providing support to Kurdish groups.

"Sweden will actively support efforts to reinvigorate Turkey's EU accession process, including modernization of the EU-Turkey Customs Union and visa liberalization," the statement added.

"This has been a good day for Sweden," Kristersson told reporters, saying the joint statement represented "a very big step" toward the final ratification of Sweden's membership of NATO.

The Turkish parliament must approve Sweden's bid, but Erdogan has agreed to push for its ratification.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose country is yet to approve Sweden's membership, said on Thursday that Budapest would no longer block
Sweden's NATO membership ratification.

Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year following the start of the war in Ukraine.

Moscow has been explicitly warning both countries that they have fallen victim to "the Russophobic frenzy" that followed the initiation of the conflict in Ukraine, adding that the countries have failed to put their interests above those of the collective West.

Finland's NATO membership was green-lighted by all NATO members in April. It took the Turkish parliament two weeks to ratify Finland's membership.

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