‘A small step forward’: Turkey, Sweden and Finland agree on more Nato talks

Representatives from Turkey, Sweden and Finland have agreed to hold more talks on the stalled bids by the Nordic countries to join Nato, the alliance said.

'A small step forward': Turkey, Sweden and Finland agree on more Nato talks
A Nato flag hangs next to a Swedish flag during a visit by Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Sweden in 2022. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Turkey and Hungary are the only Nato countries still to ratify the applications, which must be accepted by all 30 existing members of the military organisation.

Turkey has held up the process and is pushing a list of demands, including that Sweden expel dozens of mostly Kurdish residents it suspects of ties to separatist militants.

A statement from Nato said that “participants welcomed the progress that has been made” on a three-way deal struck last year aimed at satisfying Turkey’s complaints.

“They further agreed that rapid ratifications for both Finland and Sweden would be in everyone’s interest, and that their membership will strengthen the alliance,”  Nato said after the talks chaired by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The statement said the three countries agreed to meet again in the same format ahead of a Nato summit in Vilnius in July.

Swedish negotiator Oscar Stenström said there had been “a small step forward”.

“Our counterparts have accepted and recognised that there has been progress in the measures we have taken,” he said. “The positive aspect today is that we have agreed that the discussions will continue.”

The latest meeting came after Turkey had earlier suspended negotiations in outrage at protests in January that included the burning of the Koran outside its embassy in Stockholm.

As part of its efforts to assuage Turkey, the Swedish government announced on Thursday it wants to ban more activities linked to extremist groups as part of a text aimed at toughening its anti-terrorism law.

Both Finland and Sweden dropped their decades-long policies of military non-alignment and applied to join the alliance last May in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey has raised the prospect of accepting Finland without letting Sweden’s application through.

Nato officials are broadly against splitting up the bids, but increasingly accept the possibility that Helsinki may join first.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has dug in his heels on Sweden as he heads into a close presidential election in which he is trying to energise his nationalist electoral base.

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Sweden’s parliament votes by huge majority in favour of Nato accession

Sweden's parliament has voted to ratify the country's accession to the Nato defence alliance, with its historic bill to end two centuries of non-alignment passing with a margin of 269 to 37.

Sweden’s parliament votes by huge majority in favour of Nato accession

During the six-hour debate over the bill, Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said he was convinced that the country’s membership would be ratified by Turkey and Hungary, the two hold-outs in the 30-member alliance, before the summit due to be held in Vilnius in the second week of July. 

“It is obvious that we are going to be able to be members at Vilnius,” he said during the debate, pointing to the backing of the other 28 member states and strong support from the US. “The strength that we have behind us is so tangible that it’s possible to come to such a judgement.”

If Sweden were not to be a member before the summer, he continued, it would put Nato’s open-door policy, a key part of its framework, in question. 

Only two of the eight parties in the Swedish parliament voted against the bill, the Left Party and the Green Party, with their MPs providing all of the 37 “no” votes. A further 43 MPs were absent. 

“It is problematic to join a military alliance with countries which are not democratic, and where we see daily that democracy is withering,” said Håkan Svenneling, the Left Party’s foreign policy spokesperson. “They are now trying to use our application to silence our voice on democracy and human rights.” 

The two parties were also critical of the fact that Sweden was now joining an alliance backed by nuclear weapons. 

“The Nato nuclear alliance is built on the idea of using nuclear weapons as a method of deterrence,” said the Green Party’s Jacob Risberg. “The Green Party do not believe in that doctrine, but believe quite the contrary, that this could lead to more conflict.” 

The Social Democrat’s foreign policy spokesperson Morgan Johansson said he was confident that Sweden would not be made to host nuclear weapons on its territory, even though its agreement with Nato contains no formal statement ruling this out. 

The government’s Nato proposition states that “there is no reason to have nuclear weapons or permanent bases on Swedish territory in peacetime”. 

“I feel completely confident in the test which has been drawn up. There is nothing at all pushing for Sweden to be forced to host bases or nuclear weapons,” he said.