By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – NATO allies have accelerated efforts to convince Turkey to lift its opposition to Sweden joining NATO but whether they will have success before leaders hold a summit in Lithuania next month is unclear, a Western official said on Wednesday.
Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year, ditching long-held policies of military non-alignment after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Applications for membership must be approved by all NATO members, but Turkey and Hungary have yet to clear Sweden’s bid.
For the United States and the rest of the alliance, welcoming Sweden when the bloc meets in Vilnius for a summit on July 10-11 has been a top priority.
In recent days, a variety of officials from NATO countries have been working on Turkey in an attempt to gain Ankara’s approval, the Western official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters.
Turkey ratified Finland’s NATO accession in late March, but has continued to object to Sweden, saying Stockholm harbors members of militant groups it considers to be terrorists.
The Western official said NATO allies have been actively engaging with Turkey and advocating for Sweden’s NATO application but that it was unclear whether Ankara would approve it before the Vilnius summit, and that this might end up happening afterward.
On Wednesday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke to Akif Cagatay Kilic, spokesperson and chief adviser to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, and Sweden’s NATO bid was among the topics discussed.
“Mr. Sullivan underscored the United States’ view that Sweden should become a member of NATO as soon as possible,” a statement from the White House said.
Erdogan also held a phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Turkish presidency said, discussing the developments in Russia and Sweden’s NATO bid. Erdogan said Sweden has taken steps in the right direction, referring to the country’s new terrorism law.
But he also said that supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Sweden continued to organise demonstrations and finance what he called terrorist groups, which was “unacceptable” for Turkey.
On Wednesday, a man tore up and burned a copy of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, outside Stockholm’s central mosque, an event that drew condemnation from Turkey and could further complicate Sweden’s NATO bid. The man was charged with agitation against an ethnic or national group.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Mark Heinrich)
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