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Turkey to back Sweden’s NATO bid if the US sells Turkey fighter jets

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that if the United States continues to sell F-16 fighter jets and related technology to Turkey, Turkey will approve Sweden’s application to join the NATO military alliance.

Mr. Erdogan told reporters while returning to Turkey from a trip to Azerbaijan:

“If they keep their own promises, our parliament will keep the promise given.”

Finland and Sweden have both applied to join NATO, which requires the approval of all alliance members. Their applications had been submitted just after the war in Ukraine began last year.

Erdogan did not immediately agree to allow Finland to join NATO; it was only able to do so in April. However, he is in no hurry to approve Sweden’s application. Erdogan claims that Sweden is harbouring Turkish dissidents whom his government considers terrorists.

After months of stalemate, other NATO members thought a breakthrough had been achieved at the alliance’s July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, when it was announced that Turkey had agreed to endorse Sweden’s bid. However, the Turkish president continued to argue that Sweden had to do more before the Turkish parliament would vote on the matter after the summer recess. The parliament resumes in October, but it is still uncertain when and if a vote on Sweden will be scheduled.

In a speech on Tuesday, Erdogan explicitly drew a link between the United States’ sale of F-16 jets to Turkey and support for Sweden’s bid to join NATO, although US officials have repeatedly presented the two issues as separate. Mr Erdogan said it will be up to the Turkish parliament to approve Sweden’s bid if the United States goes ahead with the sale.

Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party and its allies hold a parliamentary majority, and most analysts believe that if Mr Erdogan decides to admit Sweden, the vote will only be a formality.

Hungary has also not endorsed Sweden’s entry, but Hungarian officials have said they would follow Turkey’s lead.

Washington kicked out Ankara of the F-35 stealth fighter jet program after it purchased Russia’s S-400 air defense systems despite facing opposition from the US and NATO.

Now, Turkey is striving to boost its air force with more US-made F-16 warplanes, but its request has been pending for months with the White House and US Congress.

Back in May, Sweden passed an anti-terrorism law that criminalizes membership in terrorist organizations in the country. Two months later, Turkey, Sweden, and NATO struck a joint statement that said Stockholm had changed its anti-terrorist laws, expanded counter-terrorism cooperation against Kurdish opposition groups, and restarted arms exports to Turkey.

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