VILNIUS – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed on Monday to drop his resistance to Sweden joining the NATO alliance and to submit ratification to the Turkish parliament « as soon as possible, » said alliance secretary general Jens Stoltenberg he told reporters.
« Sweden will become a full member of the alliance, » Stoltenberg said ahead of a summit of NATO leaders starting on Tuesday.
He said Erdoğan had given a « clear commitment » to proceed with Sweden’s accession.
The Turkish leader’s change of position came after a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Stoltenberg.
In a joint statement following the talks, Turkey, Sweden and NATO stressed that Stockholm had changed laws, expanded counter-terrorism cooperation against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and restarted arms exports to Turkey.
Ankara and Stockholm also agreed to create a « new bilateral security pact » and that Sweden will present a « roadmap as the basis of its continued fight against terrorism in all its forms, » the statement said.
As part of the deal, Stoltenberg also agreed to create a new « Special Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism » post at NATO.
The announcement comes after more than a year of talks to get Turkey and Hungary to sign Sweden and Finland into the alliance, with NATO leaders putting public and private pressure on the Turkish leader to expand the alliance’s roster.
Both Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional neutrality in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and applied to join the alliance in May 2022.
The accession of the two countries – which have long been close partners in the Western alliance – was easily approved by most NATO members, with Turkey resisting. Finland joined in April following approval by the Turkish parliament in March.
But Sweden proved to be a thornier issue, with Erdoğan denouncing the presence of Kurdish groups in Sweden. Relations also flared up when protesters in Sweden burned copies of the Koran.
On Monday, Erdoğan linked a change of stance on Sweden to a resurgence in his country’s moribund effort to join the European Union. The recently re-elected Turkish president also met with European Council President Charles Michel on Monday evening.
The Council leader described the session as a « good meeting », tweet that the two « opportunity being explored ahead to bring » EU cooperation with Turkey « to the fore and re-energise our relationship ».
Sweden has pledged to « actively support efforts to reinvigorate » Turkey’s bid for EU membership in a seven-point deal with Ankara. Stockholm has also agreed not to support other Kurdish militant groups and to strengthen economic cooperation with Turkey.
The next step, according to the agreement, is for Turkey to « transmit the Accession Protocol for Sweden to the Grand National Assembly and work closely with the Assembly to ensure its ratification ».
In a statement following the announcement, the President of the United States Joe Biden welcomed the deal and said, « I am ready to work with President Erdoğan and Turkey to strengthen defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area. »
Although Hungary also refused to support Sweden’s NATO bid, Stoltenberg noted that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had promised that his country would not be the last obstacle to Sweden joining.
Sweden has one of the most capable militaries in Europe and its entry into NATO together with Finland will strengthen the alliance’s grip on the Baltic Sea.
The accord reached the night before the official summit program begins takes a big headache off Stoltenberg and the alliance leaders, who are also dealing with Ukrainian demands to give Kiev a clear path to membership.
Opinions across NATO differ on how quickly Ukraine could become a member. These disagreements will likely be front and center on Wednesday when Biden holds one-to-one talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Jacopo Barigazzi, Jonathan Lemire, Paul McLeary and Alexander Ward contributed to the report.
This article has been updated.