Erdogan To Sweden: Don't Expect Us To Approve NATO Bid Without First Returning 'Terrorists'
Turkey is demanding that Sweden must hand over and extradite "terrorists" in its midst before seeking to join the NATO alliance. In fresh televised remarks on Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Swedish and Finnish diplomats shouldn't even bother trying to dispatch delegations to Turkey if they aren't willing to stop supporting Kurdish PKK 'terrorists'.
"We have told our relevant friends we would say 'no' to Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO, and we will continue on our path like this," Erdogan stressed in the remarks coming a day after Turkey blocked a fast-tracked effort to speedily process submission of the Scandinavian countries' Wednesday applications.
He also ripped Sweden in particular of being "a focus of terror, home to terror" - given it remains home to a huge community of Kurds from Syria, Iraq, and Turkey - many of which are said to be sympathetic to the anti-Turkey PKK and Syrian YPG.
It's unclear whether the Turkish leader had specific individuals in mind, or if he was speaking broadly of PKK supporters and sympathizers abroad:
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 NATO bids.
He delivered a similar address in separate remarks to MPs belonging to his ruling AK Party in parliament. "We have such a sensitivity as protecting our borders from attacks by terrorists organizations," he said. "NATO expansion is only meaningful for us in proportion to the respect that will be shown to our sensitivities."
Meanwhile, as expected the scramble has been on among Western governments to convince Ankara to soften its position, with Erdogan's office saying it held phone calls with Finland, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom and United States.
On Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu maintained a firm line during a meeting with his US counterpart Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the United Nations.
"Turkey has been supporting the open-door policy of NATO even before this war," Cavusoglu said in the meeting. "But with regard to these candidate countries, we have also legitimate security concerns that they have been supporting terrorist organizations and there are also export restrictions on defense products." This is in reference to EU arms export restrictions targeting Turkey in response to its 2019 cross-border operations against Syrian Kurdish militias, in particular the West-backed YPG.
Erdogan says he will block Sweden's entry into NATO because it's a "nest" of Kurdish terrorists.— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) May 19, 2022
But Turkey plays host to Hamas and Erdogan meets its leaders regularly.
Here he is in 2020 with Saleh al-Arouri, who is on US most wanted list and has a $5m US bounty on his head. pic.twitter.com/FyNHpRuAe5
"We understand their security concerns but Turkey’s security concerns should be also met and this is one issue that we should continue discussing with friends and allies, including the United States," Cavusoglu added.
Blinken for his part remained mum on Turkey's specific challenges to Finland and Sweden. "Today we had Finland and Sweden submit their applications and this, of course, is a process and we will work through that process as allies and partners," he said, while a State Department spokesperson later responded when pressed, "it is not for us to speak for the Turkish government" concerning its stance.