Erdogan threatens to withhold  Sweden’s NATO membership, again

Turkey has shifted attention to US warplanes from Koran-burning in endless bargaining on Sweden’s NATO entry.

It looked like a done deal on 11 July, when Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shook hands with the Swedish prime minister at a NATO summit in Vilnius.

Sweden is ready to join NATO and is waiting for Turkey to start the process to ratify the application, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said on Thursday, 7 September.


Sweden applied last year to join the defense alliance but Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve the bid.


“We are completely ready and we are waiting for the ratification process to start in Ankara,” Billstrom told a news conference in Riga after a meetings of Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers.

But Turkey’s President Erdogan may not be ready, because  he wants the Biden administration to push her $20 bn F-16 order through the Congress first—while claiming at the same time that the two issues are not related.

“We had a quick word with Biden. We also discussed the F-16 issue,” Erdogan said at a news conference after the G-20 summit in India.


The G-20 leaders, in the absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, gathered in the capital New Delhi for a two-day summit under the theme of “One Earth, One Family, One Future.”


“Unfortunately, friends keep bringing Sweden up when it comes to the F-16 issue. Such an approach seriously upsets us,” Erdogan said.


Sweden’s possible accession to NATO is at the discretion of the Turkish parliament, the president reiterated.


“If you have a Congress, I have a parliament,” Erdogan said.


His comments bode ill for what the sides hope could be a potential groundbreaking meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting that will kick off Sept. 18 in New York, comments al Monitor.


The Biden administration insists Turkey lifting its opposition to Sweden’s accession is not linked to the potential sale of F-16 fighter jets. But privately, US officials have told Turkey that Sweden’s stalled NATO application is the primary obstacle to congressional approval of the long-delayed $20 billion sale, sources close to the Turkish government have told Al-Monitor.


Alliance diplomats speaking not for attribution, however, claim the opposite, saying that Ankara will not sign off on Sweden until the US Congress agrees to the sale. “It’s a chicken and an egg situation,” one of the diplomats told Al-Monitor. Paul Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, commented on Twitter today that his country was “essentially a hostage” in Turkish US horsetrading over the F-16s.


How will this  soap opera end?  It appears likely that Ankara will blink first, because Turkey’s need is greater. Erdogan is pressuring EU to start talks on a new Customs Union Treaty, in addition to waiting for F-16s from US.   Most importantly, thanks to Mehmet Simsek, Turkey conjured up the narrative of a new beginning in the economy.  A spat over Sweden will not fit well with this narrative, potentially stonewalling Simsek’s efforts to attract financial capital to Turkey.


On the other hand, with 7 months to go until the crucial March 2024 local elections, Erdogan’s smaller allies may boycott ratification.



Comments by PA Turkey staff, Reuters, EUObserver, al Monitor


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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.