Sweden and Finland cannot enter the NATO alliance if the Turkish Parliament does not ratify their membership applications, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Turkish broadcaster NTV, Çavuşoğlu said that Sweden and Finland have to comply with the memorandum, warning that “if they do not comply, we will not accept them into NATO.”
Turkey will ensure that other NATO countries participate in the memorandum signed with Sweden and Finland, the minister said and added: “It will not be limited to just three countries. This is a written commitment. We wanted them to be written and signed.”
Describing the signing of the accord as the beginning of the process, Çavuşoğlu said the most important thing is commitment.
“Neither of these two countries can enter NATO, unless it is passed by the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM). The memorandum of understanding is the commitment of the three countries.”
Çavuşoğlu underlined that Turkey had two main objectives it sought to tackle: the activities of terrorist groups such as the PKK and the arms embargo imposed on Turkey.
“NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stepped in in this process. We sent our own draft. In the last meeting, a few days before the NATO Summit, these two countries accepted our demands. However, differences of opinion continued on some issues. Negotiations continued at the talks in Madrid. Our president announced Turkey’s red lines. The PKK is also on NATO’s terror list. For the first time, YPG/PYD was included in a NATO document,” he said referring to the U.S.-backed Syrian branches of the terrorist organization.
He reiterated that Sweden, Finland and NATO allies must respect Turkey’s national security concerns and added that the two Nordic countries’ leaders and senior officials accepted that they will not provide any support to terrorist groups.
“The two countries need to update their laws on the fight against terrorism and the defense industry. The memorandum of understanding we made is very beneficial in these countries. Sweden and Finland commit to full cooperation with Turkey in the fight against terrorism. They say, ‘Propaganda is free unless there is a terrorist attack.’ But they won’t be able to do that anymore. They will prevent the PKK from recruiting personnel,” he said and added there is also a commitment to lift the defense industry embargo and restrictions and to increase cooperation.
“In the document we gave them, we document that the YPG and the PKK are connected with each other in the light of the evidence. In the same way, we present documents and evidence regarding the terrorists they will extradite, those who were involved in terrorism, who supported terrorism, and whose crimes have been proven.
“The United States has hypocrisy, a double standard here. France has it, some countries have it too. As a result, they also tried to find some courage by saying, ‘Look, the U.S. is also supporting’, but we have clearly laid out our conditions. They had to accept this. Here, all the manifestations of terrorism, all its extensions, its fronts, are all here. After all, they have to comply with this document. If they do not comply, we will not take them into NATO anyway,” Çavuşoğlu explained.
The accord signed with Finland and Sweden to lift Turkey’s veto on their NATO membership bids is not the end of the matter and obliges the Nordic states to keep their promises, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was cited as saying on Friday.
Speaking to reporters on a flight back from the critical NATO summit in Madrid, Erdoğan said there was no need to rush ratifying the bids in Parliament. Ankara should first see if Sweden and Finland keep the promises made under the memorandum, including on extraditing suspects sought by Turkey, he said.
“This should be known: These signatures don’t mean the issue is done … Without our Parliament’s approval, this does not go into effect. So there is no need to rush,” Erdoğan said.
With the signing of the memorandum, Turkey lifted an objection to the Nordic countries’ NATO bid. In return, Finland and Sweden will address Turkey’s terrorism concerns.
Speaking at a news conference in Madrid at the end of the NATO summit on Thursday, Erdoğan gave similar messages to the international audience.
Sweden and Finland must fulfill the promises made to Turkey in the deal regarding their NATO membership bids, including a pledge by Stockholm to extradite 73 “terrorists,” the president noted.
“We have strongly emphasized the message that we expect genuine solidarity from our allies, not only in words but also in action,” Erdoğan told reporters after the summit at which the Nordic countries were formally invited into the U.S.-led military bloc.
Their membership applications were held up until the last moment by Turkey, which sought guarantees that the Nordic countries would join Turkey’s fight against PKK-linked terrorists and swiftly extradite suspects. The dispute was resolved by a 10-point memorandum, signed on Tuesday, that appeared to address many of Turkey’s terrorism concerns and lift an arms embargo on Ankara imposed in response to Turkey’s 2019 military operation into Syria. But Erdoğan said he now expects the two countries to implement the deal in full.
Erdoğan told Sweden and Finland that he could still block their drives to join NATO if they fail to implement the new deal with Ankara.
Finland and Sweden must first keep the promises made to Turkey in the deal to lift its veto on their NATO membership bids, otherwise, ratification will not be sent to Parliament, Erdoğan said and added that the two Nordic countries must complete legislative changes regarding terrorists as soon as possible.
New countries’ membership applications must be approved by all NATO member states and ratified by the countries’ respective parliaments.
The deal also states that Finland and Sweden will work closely with Turkey on issues related to the exchange of information, extradition and, in general, the fight against terrorism.
After four hours of talks in Madrid on Tuesday, Erdoğan and his Finnish and Swedish counterparts agreed on a series of security measures to allow the two Nordic countries to overcome the Turkish veto.
According to the signed memorandum, Finland and Sweden pledged not to support the PKK/YPG or the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which orchestrated a 2016 coup attempt and is led by U.S.-based Fetullah Gülen. The signed memorandum did not list any individuals for extradition. Ratification in allied parliaments is likely to take up to a year, but once it is done, Finland and Sweden will be covered by NATO’s Article 5 collective defense clause, putting them under the United States’ protective nuclear umbrella.
Also touching upon a possible military operation in northern Syria, Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey will take the matter into its own hands if a threat emerges against it in the war-torn country.
“We have repeatedly expressed our disappointment with the United States’ aid to the YPG. When it comes to national security, it doesn’t matter who says what. Turkey does what is necessary within the framework of international law,” the foreign minister said.
“We also have an agreement with the United States and Russia. They were also going to pull these terrorists 30 kilometers south, but they did not. Recently, the terrorist organization has increased its attacks on our lands both from within Syria and outside Syria. If these countries do not keep their word, we will take our steps accordingly, Çavuşoğlu said, adding: “Turkey, when there is a threat against it here, does not listen to whoever is next to it, behind it or inside, it does what is necessary and eliminates it.”
Erdoğan said last month that Turkey would launch new military operations in Syria to extend the 30-kilometer (20-mile) deep “safe zones” along the border, aiming at the Tal Rifaat and Manbij regions and other areas further east.
“We are taking another step in establishing a 30-kilometer security zone along our southern border. We will clean up Tal Rifaat and Manbij,” he said, adding that the planned military operations will gradually continue in other parts of northern Syria.
Erdoğan has said that since the United States and Russia have failed to live up to their commitments to provide a safe zone along the border region, Turkey is ready to mount an operation to protect the nation and locals in northern Syria from the PKK/YPG terrorist threat.
In October 2019, Russia committed to removing the terrorist group from Tal Rifaat and Manbij after reaching an agreement with Turkey during Operation Peace Spring. Moscow also promised that the terrorists would be pulled back 30 kilometers from the border on the M4 highway and in the area outside the Operation Peace Spring zone. Likewise, U.S. then-Vice President Mike Pence pledged to Turkey that the YPG/PKK terrorist group would withdraw from the Operation Peace Spring region. But neither Moscow nor Washington kept their promises.
The YPG/PKK mostly carries out terrorist attacks in Manbij, Ain al-Arab and the Tal Rifaat district of Aleppo, even using these regions as bases for its attacks. The YPG, which occupies roughly a third of Syria’s territory with the support of the United States, frequently targets Azaz, Marea, al-Bab, Jarablus, Afrin, Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain in the north of the country with heavy weapons.
Turkish-backed operations in previous years have ousted the YPG/PKK from the northwestern enclave of Afrin and a series of border towns further east. Since 2016, Ankara has launched a trio of successful counterterrorism operations across its border in northern Syria to prevent the formation of a terror corridor and enable the peaceful settlement of residents: Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018) and Peace Spring (2019).
The YPG has controlled much of northeastern Syria since the forces of Syrian regime leader Bashar Assad withdrew in 2012. Assad’s forces have recovered most of Syria but some areas remain outside his control. Turkish forces are deployed in much of the north and northwest, the last opposition stronghold, and U.S. forces are stationed in the YPG-controlled east and northeast.
The PKK is a designated terrorist organization in the U.S., Turkey and the European Union, and Washington’s support for its Syrian affiliate has been a major strain on bilateral relations with Ankara. The U.S. primarily partnered with the YPG in northeastern Syria to fight the Daesh terrorist group. On the other hand, Turkey strongly opposed the YPG’s presence in northern Syria. Ankara has long objected to the U.S.’ support for the YPG, a group that poses a threat to Turkey and terrorizes local people, destroying their homes and forcing them to flee.
While acknowledging Turkey’s security concerns, Washington has voiced concerns about Ankara’s plans, saying a new operation could undermine regional stability and put American forces at risk. Russia also said last week it hoped Turkey “refrains from actions which could lead to a dangerous deterioration of the already difficult situation in Syria.”
Normalization with Israel
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu also hailed the normalization process between Ankara and Tel Aviv, assuring that the government change in Israel will not have an impact on ties.
Despite Israel preparing for an election, the dialogue between Ankara and Tel Aviv is ongoing in various areas including energy, he added.
“Government changes in Israel will not have a negative effect on our relations. Elections will begin in October. Then we will start the ambassador appointments,” he said.
Last week, Israeli lawmakers voted to pass the final readings of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, paving the way for snap elections slated for Nov. 1.
The upcoming elections are the fifth in less than four years, during which former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed four times to form a government despite his party’s victory in the elections.
Regarding the normalization with some Arab countries, Çavuşoğlu also said unlike the normalization process that is progressing rapidly with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, the progress with Egypt is not going “as fast as we want.”
“Relations in all areas are good, but we can say that a relatively slow process is taking place in political relations compared to other countries,” he explained. “But there is no problem. Both sides need to be at the same speed at the same time.”
Turkey and Israel have launched the process to raise mutual diplomatic relations to the ambassadors level, Çavuşoğlu said last month while Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid paid a visit to the capital Ankara as the two countries enter a new phase in bilateral relations after a decade of animosity. Both countries will continue mutual visits and political negotiations at various levels, Çavuşoğlu said at the joint press conference.
Within the scope of Turkey’s normalization policy with the countries of the Gulf and the Middle East, Lapid arrived in the capital Ankara just days after urging Israelis to leave Turkey over threats of attacks by Iranian operatives. This was the first foreign minister-level visit from Israel to Turkey in 16 years. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni visited Ankara in May 2006. The trip followed Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Israel in May, which marked the first visit at the foreign minister-level in 15 years.
During a visit to Israel, Çavuşoğlu said Turkey and Israel demonstrated a “common will” to improve relations in every field. “Even though there were difficult days, we decided to continue our relations,” Çavuşoğlu said. Earlier, in March, Herzog visited Ankara and met with Erdoğan.
Turkey has recently been working to improve relations with several countries in the region as part of a normalization process launched in 2020.