Turkey finally approves Sweden’s Nato bid, leaving Hungary as holdout

It endorsed Finland’s membership in April last year but, along with Hungary, had kept Sweden waiting.

Turkish lawmakers in parliament in Ankara follow the debate over Sweden’s bid to join Nato on Tuesday. Photo: AP

“We support Nato enlargement to improve the alliance’s deterrence efforts … We hope Finland and Sweden’s attitude towards fighting terrorism sets an example for our other allies,” Fuat Oktay, head of parliament’s foreign affairs commission and a ruling AK Party member, said during debate.

Erdogan is expected to sign the legislation into law within days, leaving Hungary – whose Prime Minister Viktor Orban has friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin – as the only member state not to have approved Sweden’s accession.

Orban said earlier on Tuesday he had invited his Swedish counterpart to visit and negotiate his country joining the bloc. Hungary’s parliament is in recess until around mid-February.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Swedish news agency TT there was no reason “to negotiate in the current situation, though … we can have a dialogue and continue to discuss questions”.

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Turkey and Hungary maintain better relations with Russia than other members of the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

While opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has criticised Western sanctions on Moscow. For its part, Russia has cautioned that it would respond if Nato bolstered military infrastructure in the two Nordic states.

Sweden, whose membership bid marked a historic shift away from a non-aligned security policy, would enhance Nato defences in the Baltic Sea region facing Russia.

Turkey’s delays had frustrated some of its Western allies and enabled it to extract some concessions.

People shout slogans during a protest against the Sweden’s Nato membership in Istanbul, Turkey on Tuesday. Photo: AP

Ankara had urged Stockholm to toughen its stance on local members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the European Union and United States also deem a terrorist group.

In response, Stockholm introduced a new anti-terrorism bill that makes being a member of a terrorist organisation illegal. Sweden, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands also took steps to relax policies on arms exports to Turkey.

In parliament, Oktay said Erdogan’s AK Party endorsed Sweden’s Nato bid after its positive steps fighting terrorism.

The AKP’s nationalist allies MHP and the main opposition CHP also endorsed Sweden’s bid. Opposition nationalist, Islamist and leftist parties rejected it, while four MPs abstained.

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Erdogan, who had sent Sweden’s bid to parliament in October, linked the ratification to US approval of sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

The White House backs the sale and some analysts expect a deal to swiftly follow Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s bid.

But there is no clear time frame for the US Congress to approve the deal, with Turkey facing some congressional opposition over delays to Nato enlargement as well as its human rights record.

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