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Turkey’s parliamentary committee advances Sweden’s Nato accession

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Turkey’s parliamentary committee advances Sweden’s Nato accession

Erdogan has called for a “simultaneous” sale of F-16s to Turkey by the US as it agrees to Sweden’s Nato accession

MEE staff

Tue, 12/26/2023 – 19:52

Hungarian President Katalin Novak welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan prior a welcoming ceremony with military honours at the Heroes’ Square in Budapest, Hungary, on 18 December 2023 (AFP)

The foreign affairs committee of Turkey’s parliament gave the green light on Tuesday for Sweden’s Nato membership, clearing a major hurdle in the Nordic country’s accession to the bloc amid strains between the West and Turkey over the war on Gaza and Russia ties.

Tuesday’s move paves the way for a vote by the full parliament, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling alliance holds a majority of seats. No date has been set for the vote. Meanwhile, the head of the foreign affairs committee cautioned that the vote wouldn’t happen immediately.

Erdogan referred the ratification to Turkey’s parliament in October. Sweden’s foreign minister said earlier this month that he was told the decision would be settled “within weeks”, but there has been scant sign of progress until this week.

Sweden’s Nato accession is shaping up to be the biggest test of Turkey’s ability to maintain working ties with Washington and Brussels even as it strikes a foreign policy independent from the West, bolstering economic ties with Russia and more recently, condemning Israel for its war on Gaza while calling Hamas a “liberation” movement.

Erdogan agreed to support Sweden’s Nato accession in a deal struck on the sidelines of the Nato summit in Lithuania over the summer. Sweden agreed to crack down on Kurdish militants and support Turkey’s accession to the EU in return.


US President Joe Biden also signalled that he would back Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.

But the US Congress has yet to be notified of any F-16 sales, and in December Erdogan said that he wanted to see a “simultaneous” move by the US to push the sale through with Sweden’s accession.

“If you have your Congress, I have my parliament,” Erdogan said. “You say you will take a step in the F-16 issue after passing through Congress. I also have a parliament.”

‘Make the F-16 deal work’

Nicholas Danforth, at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (Eliamep), previously told Middle East Eye that the challenge to the F-16 deal “has always been one of timing”, adding that Erdogan’s public support for Hamas and concerns about the group’s use of Turkey to tap financing added a new complication to the sale.

But “people in Washington still want to make the F-16 deal work. I think ultimately they can get the F-16 deal done”, he said.

Turkey: Erdogan eyes reset with Greece amid war in Gaza and talks with US over F-16s

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Murat Aslan, a former high-ranking Turkish military officer, now a researcher with Turkey’s Seta foundation, previously told MEE that Erdogan’s comments reflect a “deep mistrust” of Washington in Ankara over the F-16 deal.

“From Turkey’s perspective it’s a basic rule of reciprocity. One step forward by me, and one step forward by you,” he said.

“What would happen if parliament said yes to the accession of Sweden but the US didn’t sell Turkey F-16s? How would Erdogan explain that to people?”

Where the US Congress stands

The sale of F-16s to Turkey can be blocked by any four members of Congress – the chair and ranking members of the House and Senate foreign relations committees.

US and European officials have told MEE that the Biden administration has a framework worked out for the deal, which would see the sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to Greece and a separate sale of F-16s to Turkey.

‘People in Washington still want to make the F-16 deal work’

– Nicholas Danforth, Eliamep

While Erdogan has staked out a different position to the West over the war on Gaza, he has tried to mend fences with regional states and recently made a historic visit to Greece, Turkey’s longtime foe in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, who took over as chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee from noted Turkey-hawk Robert Menendez, said in October that Sweden’s Nato bid was just one of several issues he would look at, along with how Turkey “uses the F-16s”.

Meanwhile, Congressman Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has said he would like to see a “de-escalation of tensions in the Aegean” in addition to Sweden’s accession.

The House and Senate Republican leaders on the committees have generally been more supportive of the sale.

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