Sweden’s new prime minister pledged Tuesday to work toward countering “terrorism” threats to Turkey, as his government seeks Turkey’s approval for his country’s NATO membership bid.
Ulf Kristersson was in Ankara to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who announced a new meeting at the end of the month in Stockholm at which he hoped for “a more positive conclusion”.
NATO member Turkey has not yet endorsed the applications from Sweden and Finland, who abandoned their longstanding policies of military nonalignment after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
“My government was elected just a few weeks ago on a mandate to put law and order first,” Kristersson said during a joint news conference with Erdogan. “And this includes countering terrorism and terrorist organisations like the PKK in Sweden.”
“This is why I want to reassure all Turks: Sweden will live up to all the obligations made to Turkey in countering the terrorist threat before becoming a member of NATO and as a future ally,” he said.
Erdogan said he welcomed the new Swedish government’s commitment to meeting obligations that were agreed between Turkey, Sweden and Finland ahead of a NATO summit in June but said his country wanted to see “concrete steps”.
Erdogan also described as a “positive step” a decision by Sweden to lift an arms embargo imposed following Turkey’s 2019 incursion into northern Syria to combat Kurdish militants.
“Sweden wants NATO membership for its own security. We want to see a Sweden that supports our security concerns being met,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish leader said at least four individuals wanted by Turkey had been deported, but would not say how many more Ankara wanted. Erdogan said however, that a former journalist wanted for alleged links to the 2016 coup attempt should be extradited.
Earlier, the Turkish parliament speaker said Sweden still had “many steps to take”, claiming that groups Ankara deems to be terrorists were still able to conduct “propaganda, financing and recruitment activities” in Sweden.
Sweden’s new centre-right government is taking a harder line not just toward the PKK, but also toward the Syrian Kurdish militia group YPG and its political branch, PYD. Turkey regards the YPG as the Syrian arm of the PKK.
The Swedish parliament will vote next week to change the constitution in order to toughen its fight against terrorism, one of the points demanded by Turkey to allow Sweden to join NATO.
This would allow “restricting the freedom of association of groups engaged in terrorism”, the parliament said in a statement. Experts say prosecuting members of the PKK should become easier.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said the country would “keep a distance” from Syrian groups in order not to harm relations with Turkey — comments that were criticised by the opposition and Kurdish groups.
Around 100,000 Kurds live in Sweden, while Finland is home to 15,000 Kurds.
Accession to NATO requires unanimous approval from the 30 existing alliance members, but the parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have yet to do so for Finland and Sweden.
Last week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg traveled to Turkey and urged the country to set aside its reservations, insisting the Nordic neighbours had done enough to satisfy Ankara’s concerns.