President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday Sweden should not expect Turkey to approve its NATO bid without returning “terrorists”, and Swedish and Finnish delegations should not come to Turkey to convince it to back their membership in the alliance.
Earlier, Finland and Sweden formally applied to join U.S.-led NATO, a decision spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the accession process expected to take only a few weeks despite Turkey’s objections.
Ankara says Sweden and Finland harbour people it says are linked to groups it deems terrorists, namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a 2016 coup attempt.
“We have such a sensitivity as protecting our borders from attacks by terrorists organizations,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his ruling AK Party in parliament.
Erdogan said NATO allies had never supported Turkey in its fight against Kurdish militant groups, including the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which Ankara also views as a terrorist group closely tied to the PKK.
“NATO expansion is only meaningful for us in proportion to the respect that will be shown to our sensitivities,” he said.
Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber said on Monday Sweden and Finland had not granted approval for the repatriation of 33 people that Turkey requested.
“So you won’t give us back terrorists but you ask us for NATO membership? NATO is an entity for security, an organization for security. Therefore, we cannot say ‘yes’ to this security organization being deprived of security,” Erdogan said.
U.S. President Joe Biden said he thought the bids by Sweden and Finland to join NATO would be successful. “I think we’re going to be OK,” Biden said in response to a reporter’s question on how he would convince Ankara to drop its opposition.
Erdogan’s chief foreign policy adviser Ibrahim Kalin has held phone calls with his counterparts from Finland, Sweden and the United States among others, the Turkish presidency said. Kalin said progress on the Nordic countries’ NATO bid will only be possible if solid steps are taken addressing Turkey’s national security concerns.
The issue will be discussed at a meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday in New York.
Erdogan also accused NATO allies of supporting terrorists, citing their arms deliveries for the YPG, a main source of disagreement between Ankara and Washington, as well as other Western countries.
In 2019, Ankara received little international backing for its plans to build a safe zone in northern Syria, including settling 1 million Syrians in part of northeast Syria that Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies seized from the YPG.
Erdogan called on NATO members to support Turkey’s “legitimate” and “moral” operations in Syria, including the safe zone, or “at least do not try to trip us up.”
Erdogan has also said Turkey would oppose the NATO bids from those who imposed sanctions on Ankara. Sweden and Finland had banned arms exports to Turkey after its Syria incursion against the YPG in 2019.
Kalin on Saturday said that Turkey has not shut the door to Sweden and Finland joining NATO but wanted negotiations and a clampdown on what it sees as terrorist activities.