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Turkish official says Sweden still must address antiterrorism to win support for NATO bid

Jan. 14, 2023 Updated Sat., Jan. 14, 2023 at 6:27 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on Jan. 4 in Ankara.  (ADEM ALTAN/AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on Jan. 4 in Ankara. (ADEM ALTAN/AFP)
By Ben Hubbard New York Times

ISTANBUL – A top aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey suggested on Saturday that it could take more than six months for Sweden to do what is necessary to win the country’s support for its bid to join NATO.

The aide, Ibrahim Kalin, applauded constitutional change that Sweden had made as a step toward meeting Turkish demands, but he said it could take until June for the Nordic nation to put in place the laws necessary for those changes to be implemented.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Sweden and Finland to seek membership in NATO, which would grant them protection from the alliance in the case of a Russian attack. Finland shares a long border with Russia, and Sweden has a maritime border.

Joining NATO requires approval by all members, and Turkey has issued extensive demands that it says must be met before it will support the inclusion of Sweden and Finland. These include tightening antiterrorism laws and extraditing people Turkey considers criminals.

In November, Sweden’s parliament passed a constitutional amendment that makes it possible to pass tougher antiterrorism laws as Turkey has demanded, but so far it has not moved on that legislation.

Turkey has charged that Sweden is harboring people with ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish militant group that Turkey, the European Union and the United States consider a terrorist organization. Turkey is also seeking the extradition of others accused of links to an Islamic movement that Turkey considers be a terrorist organization but Western countries do not.

“They have to send a very clear message, not just through words but through actions, to the PKK and its various front organizations that Sweden is no longer a safe haven for them,” Kalin told reporters in Istanbul.

Swedish officials have said that they have made great efforts to meet Turkey’s demands but that they must act under their domestic laws. Last month, a Swedish court ruled that a Turkish journalist sought by Turkey could not be extradited because the Turkish allegations against him were in part political and because he could be persecuted if returned to Turkey.

Kalin acknowledged those constraints, saying that Turkey had not asked Sweden or Finland “to do anything outside their legal framework.” But he said that Turkey was not in a hurry and could wait until its demands are met.

“We are not in a rush here,” he said. “They are in a rush to join NATO.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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