Sweden will start diplomatic discussions with Turkey to try to overcome Ankara’s objections to its plan to join NATO, Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said, with a formal decision to apply for membership of the 30-nation alliance expected on Monday.
Sweden’s ruling Social Democrats dropped their 73-year opposition to joining NATO on Sunday and are hoping for a quick accession, abandoning decades of military non-alignment following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
“Europe, Sweden and the Swedish people are living now in a new and dangerous reality,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said during a debate in parliament.
Andersson and several of the other party leaders said Sweden did not want NATO-military bases or nuclear weapons on its territory.
The government will take the formal decision to apply later in the day and can do so without a vote in parliament.
Finland on Sunday confirmed it would apply to join the Atlantic military alliance.
However, Turkey surprised its NATO allies by saying it would not view applications by Finland and Sweden positively, with President Tayyip Erdogan saying “Scandinavian countries are guesthouses for terrorist organizations.”
“We will send a group of diplomats to hold discussions and have a dialogue with Turkey so we can see how this can be resolved and what this is really about,” Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told public service broadcaster SVT.
Turkey said it wanted the Nordic countries to halt support for Kurdish militant groups present on their territory, and lift bans on sales of some weapons to Turkey.
NATO and the United States said they were confident Turkey would not hold up membership of Finland and Sweden.
Any decision on NATO enlargement requires approval by all 30 members of the alliance and their parliaments, but diplomats said Erdogan would be under pressure to yield as Finland and Sweden would greatly strengthen NATO in the Baltic Sea.
“I’m confident that we will be able to address the concerns that Turkey has expressed in a way that doesn’t delay the membership,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday.
The parliamentary debate, a formality as there is already a broad majority behind an application, also gave a chance for the two parties opposed to a NATO membership application to voice their concerns.
“The decision … to join a nuclear-armed alliance with authoritarian regimes is being made with no input from voters,” Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar said. “There are other ways of keeping Sweden safe.” [Reuters]