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US to offer Turkey military boost as prize for letting Sweden join NATO

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

The US has reportedly expressed support for the “modernization” of the Turkish military as a prize for Ankara’s eventual approval of Sweden’s accession to the US-led NATO military alliance.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler conferred on Washington’s support for modernizing Turkey’s military in a telephone conversation on Monday after Ankara finally endorsed Sweden’s NATO membership after holding out against the bid for over a year, according to Pentagon’s readout of the discussions released later in the day.

"They ... discussed the positive talks between Turkey, Sweden, and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, as well as the Department of Defense's support for Turkey’s military modernization," the Pentagon said of the phone call between Austin and Guler.

Ankara requested in October 2021 to purchase $20 billion worth of Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 jetfighters and nearly 80 modernization kits for its existing warplanes.

The phone call came just hours after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to approve Sweden's bid to join the alliance in a press briefing earlier in the day, just ahead of the NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius, which commences on Tuesday.

The development 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.

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

Ankara also demands that Stockholm extradite or expel supporters of the Kurdish PKK militant group -- considered a terrorist organization by the US and the EU -- as well as the Kurdish YPG militants in Syria and the followers of the US-based Turkish opposition cleric, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan alleges that Gulen, a former political ally, masterminded the failed 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan's government.

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

This is while Sweden's NATO accession must also be approved by the Turkish parliament, though Erdogan has agreed to push for its ratification.

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

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO accession last year following the eruption of the Ukraine conflict.

Russia has explicitly warned both Baltic countries that they have fallen victim to "the Russophobic frenzy" that followed the raging conflict over Moscow's national security concerns about NATO's persisting eastern expansion among other issues, insisting that the two 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, though it took the Turkish parliament two weeks to ratify the accession.

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