Turkish Foreign Affairs Committee Approves Sweden’s NATO Bid

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs commission has approved Sweden’s NATO membership bid.

The decision, taken on Tuesday, is a key step towards enlarging the military alliance after 19 months of delays in which Ankara demanded security-related concessions from Stockholm.

The commission, controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), voted to back the bid made by Sweden last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The next step is a vote by the full parliament, in which the AK Party and its allies hold a majority. Sweden’s NATO membership is expected to pass, and then the measure would go to Erdogan. If he signs it into law, he would conclude a process that has taken nearly two years and frustrated some of Ankara’s allies in the West.

Commission head Fuat Oktay, however, played down expectations for a speedy vote in the full Grand National Assembly, telling reporters that the speaker would decide on a timing for the vote. Parliament also has a two-week recess in early January.

“The decision to submit it to the general assembly has been made now, but this should not be interpreted as [a sign] that it will pass the general assembly with the same speed. There is no such thing,” Oktay said.

In a statement after the commission’s approval, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Sweden welcomed the move and looked forward to joining NATO.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also hailed the approval by the Turkish parliamentary commission.

“I welcome the vote by the Turkish parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership,” Stoltenberg said, urging Turkey and fellow holdout Hungary to complete their ratifications “as soon as possible”.

All NATO members, which now number 31, are required to approve new memberships.

Erdogan raised objections in May last year to both Swedish and Finnish requests to join the alliance over what he said was their protection of people whom Turkey accuses of being “terrorists” and over their defence of trade embargoes.

Turkey ratified Finland’s bid in April but kept Sweden waiting until it took more steps to crack down on local members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey, the European Union and the United States list as a terrorist group.

In response, Stockholm introduced a bill that makes being a member of a “terrorist organisation” illegal.

Sweden and NATO members Finland, Canada and the Netherlands also took steps to relax arms-export policies affecting Turkey.

While NATO member Hungary has also not ratified Sweden’s membership, Turkey is seen as the main roadblock to adding the Scandinavian nation to the military alliance and bolstering its defences in the Baltic Sea region.

Erdogan had also linked Turkey’s ratification of Sweden’s membership with the US approval of sales of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

After a call with US President Joe Biden this month, he said Washington was considering the ratification to move on the request.

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