Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that Sweden had to stop protests by supporters of the Ankara-criminalized Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Stockholm if it wanted Turkey to approve its NATO membership.
“Turkey maintains its constructive stance regarding Sweden’s membership but that legislative amendments would be meaningless so long as PKK/PYD/YPG supporters organize demonstrations freely in this country,” according to a readout of the phone call between Erdogan and Stoltenberg.
Erdogan also stressed during the call, “the injustices faced within the context of the F-35s and the attempts to associate Turkey’s requests about the F-16s with Sweden’s membership would harm NATO and its security rather than Turkey.”
Stoltenberg said on Twitter he had a “good call” with Erdogan ahead of the upcoming NATO summit, where “important decisions on terrorism, deterrence and defense” will be taken. He added: “We will continue working together on Sweden’s accession to NATO.”
Turkey ratified Finland's NATO accession in late March, however, it raised objections to Sweden's membership, alleging that Stockholm supported Kurdish militants, namely the PKK, which Ankara deems a terrorist organization.
With the NATO leaders summit scheduled for mid-July in Lithuania, the membership of Sweden has emerged as a top priority for the alliance and the US.
The US had steadfastly denied the sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, a fellow NATO member, owing to Ankara’s decision to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense system. This acquisition was seen as a potential threat to the NATO alliance as it could expose vulnerabilities of the F-35s to the Russian system. As a result, Turkey was removed from the F-35 program in 2019.
Despite these complications, later discussions of a possible F-16 deal have emerged. The potential sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey is seen as an attempt to bolster their aging fleet while maintaining NATO interoperability, without jeopardizing the security of the advanced F-35 technology.
Turkey’s pursuit of billions of dollars’ worth F-16 deal has encountered delays due to objections raised by the US Congress, despite President Joe Biden’s administration expressing support for the sale.