Turkey's Foreign Affairs Committee Fuat Oktay (C) chairs a committee session at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara on November 16, 2023, on Sweden's NATO aspirations as Turkey neared meeting a major Western defence alliance objective despite its fury at Israel's war against Gaza Palestinians. AFP
It was not immediately known when the committee would resume its discussions on Sweden's accession protocol or when it would reach Parliament's general assembly for the last stage of the legislative process.
The meeting was adjourned after legislators from Erdogan’s ruling party submitted a motion for a postponement on grounds that some issues needed clarification and that negotiations with Sweden had not “matured” enough.
Committee chairman Fuat Oktay later told reporters that the Swedish ambassador may be invited to the next session to provide further information on steps his country has taken to address Turkey’s security concerns.
Turkey has stalled ratifying Sweden’s membership in NATO, accusing the country of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara regards as threats to its security, including Kurdish militants and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.
Turkey has also been angered by a series of demonstrations by supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in Sweden as well as Quran-burning protests that roiled Muslim countries.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifted his objection to Sweden’s bid during a NATO summit in July and sent the accession protocol to Parliament for ratification last month. Turkey's reversal of its position came after Stockholm pledged deeper cooperation with Turkey on counterterrorism and to support Turkey’s ambition to revive its EU membership bid. In addition, NATO agreed to establish a special coordinator for counterterrorism.
Earlier on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar briefed committee members on steps Sweden had taken to meet Turkey’s security demands, saying Kurdish militants were no longer able to find a “comfortable space for movement in Sweden,” the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
“The Swedish government and public have begun to better understand the legitimate security concerns of our country,” Akcapar was quoted as saying.
NATO requires the unanimous approval of all existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary are the only countries that have been holding out. Hungary has stalled Sweden's bid, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy.
Earlier this week, Turkish Parliament speaker, Numan Kurtulmus, told his Swedish counterpart Andreas Norlen in a video conference that he hopes the legislative process in Turkey would be finalized “as soon as possible,” Anadolu reported.
Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following the outbreak of the Ukraine war last year. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming NATO’s 31st member, after Turkey’s Parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.
Turkey’s agreement on Sweden’s membership has also been linked to Ankara’s efforts to acquire new F-16 fighter planes from the United States and to upgrade its existing fighter fleet. However, both U.S. and Turkish officials have insisted that any such deal would not be tied to Sweden’s NATO membership.
Israel 'terror state'
The latest membership delay comes as Erdogan continues to voice his anger at Israel and the West for the scale of the civilian toll in the Gaza war.
Erdogan has called Israel a "terror state" that was being used as a "pawn" to project the interests of the United States in the Middle East.
He has also warned that a broader war between "the cross and the crescent" was breaking out between Israel's mostly Christian Western allies and the Muslim world.
Erdogan has been a leading international supporter of Palestinian rights during his two-decade rule and has been much more vocal as the reported death toll from Israel's war on Gaza has mounted.
According to the Gaza health ministry, Israel's air and ground invasion of the Palestinian territory has left more than 11,500 people dead, many of them women and children.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online