(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a top aide said approval for Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has yet to be discussed in parliament amid ongoing concerns related to a Kurdish militant group.
“There is an issue that Sweden is not keeping its promises,” Erdogan said at a roundtable discussion with think-tanks and media in New York Monday, adding that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is allowed to “protest in the streets of Stockholm.”
Fuat Oktay, the former vice president who heads Turkey’s foreign affairs commission, said the ratification issue will be on parliament’s agenda after it opens next month. Turkey isn’t expected to vote on the matter before late October.
“We are not yet convinced on Sweden,” Oktay told Turkish broadcaster CNNTurk on Monday evening. “We are working hard for Sweden’s NATO membership. The decision we make as a commission will be to the benefit of Turkey.”
Sweden has been seeking to join NATO for security reasons with neighboring Finland, which gained entry earlier this year, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. All member states have to agree on newcomers, and Turkey is the main holdout alongside Hungary, ostensibly due to the Kurdish issue. That’s threatening to stoke tensions between Turkey and its US-led NATO allies, which are increasingly impatient to see Sweden as a member.
Read More: Why Turkey Is Still Blocking Sweden’s NATO Accession: QuickTake
Erdogan’s administration has faced opposition from the PKK in its own country, where the group is fighting to secure an autonomous state.
The Turkish president met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday to discuss Sweden’s bid to join the alliance, alongside efforts to revive a UN-backed deal that had allowed Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea, Turkish state media reported.
Erdogan agreed to support Stockholm’s NATO bid in July but recently tied the ratification to a number of Koran burnings in Sweden that sparked anger in the Muslim world and among his conservative support base. He said Sweden must prevent supporters of separatist Kurdish militant groups, including the PKK, from staging anti-Turkey protests.
Erdogan urged Sweden to review its laws if existing ones aren’t strong enough to keep protests off the streets, and said he would discuss the issue with Stoltenberg.
For its part, Sweden has lifted a ban on arms sales to Turkey and amended its anti-terrorism laws in an effort to break the impasse. In Sweden’s view, the new legal measures satisfied its last remaining obligation under an agreement signed at NATO’s Madrid summit to pave the way for ratification.
Last month also saw Ulf Kristersson’s government launch an inquiry on legal changes to help stop Koran burnings when factors such as national security pose a risk. Based on current laws, Swedish police can deny permits for public events only in the case of war or risk of war, or if there is an immediate threat to local order and security.
Stoltenberg said on social media platform X, previously known as Twitter, that the Turkish parliament would take up Sweden’s bid “as soon as possible.”
The Turkish president has recently expressed disappointment over a US demand that Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s entry into NATO is a prerequisite for agreeing to sell F-16 warplanes. He spoke against hostility toward Islam — without naming Sweden — during a dinner on Sunday in New York, where he is attending the United Nations General Assembly this week.
“If hostility toward Islam is not prevented, the perpetrators will become even more reckless,” Erdogan said during a dinner hosted by the Turkish American National Steering Committee on Sunday. “As Turkey, we make our warnings against this danger that is growing like a snowball.”
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--With assistance from Reto Gregori and Kati Pohjanpalo.
(Updates with Sweden stance in 10th paragraph.)
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