Opposition to the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey in the US Congress remains a major hurdle for Sweden’s NATO membership bid. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed his expectation for the US Congress to take steps on the sale before Turkey’s parliament can ratify Sweden’s NATO membership.
Erdogan emphasized the need for simultaneous steps from the US Congress and Turkey’s parliament. However, there is uncertainty surrounding the timeline for the US Congress to approve the sale, despite President Joe Biden’s support. Turkey has linked the approval of the F-16 sale to Sweden’s NATO membership bid.
The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs commission recently delayed a vote on Sweden’s membership bid, posing a setback to Sweden’s aspirations of joining the Western alliance after an 18-month wait. The bill requires approval from the commission before it can be put to a full parliament vote for ratification.
Erdogan has urged Sweden to take action against Kurdish armed groups, particularly the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a “terrorist” group by Turkey, the European Union, and the United States. NATO allies have expressed disappointment over the prolonged process in Ankara.
Sweden and Finland submitted their requests to join NATO in May of last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Approval from all members is required for a candidate to join the alliance. While Finland’s accession was approved in April, Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve Sweden’s application for membership.
In a separate development, Sweden signed a defense cooperation agreement with the United States, granting the US access to all of the military bases in Sweden. The agreement is aimed at enhancing regional security.
Amid the impasse over Sweden’s accession to NATO, Erdogan is scheduled to visit Greece to engage in joint Cabinet talks and trade consultations with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The visit is part of a “positive agenda” to improve relations and address longstanding disputes between the two countries.
After years of tension and the risk of military confrontation, the NATO allies are working to rebuild trust and demonstrate cooperation in the eastern Mediterranean. The visit to Greece is seen as a step towards fostering a more constructive relationship between the historically uneasy neighbors.
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