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Still no Swedish meatballs at the NATO cantina

FILE PHOTO: The President of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speak at a press conference in Berlin on November 17th, 2023.

FILE PHOTO: The President of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speak at a press conference in Berlin on November 17th, 2023.

ddp/Andreas Gora via Reuters

Just days after the Swedish foreign minister said he was confident his country would join NATO “within weeks,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has thrown up another roadblock.

If you’re counting, the process has now dragged on for more than 18 months, as Turkey and Hungary are the two NATO member holdouts blocking Sweden’s formal accession to the alliance.


Erdoğan says that while he’s “done his duty” by asking lawmakers to greenlight Sweden’s entry, he now expects Washington to reward him by approving his long-coveted purchase of US-made F-16 fighter jets. The Turkish president’s idea is that both processes should occur “simultaneously.”

But the US Congress doesn’t share that idea. Lawmakers in Washington won’t sign off on the F-16 sale “until Sweden is let into NATO,” according to Eurasia Group US Director Clayton Allen. And Erdoğan’s recent statements in support of Hamas and sanctions-busting trade with Russia will “make that even thornier,” he says.

Still, Erdoğan’s game isn’t to block Sweden indefinitely, but rather to engage in “diplomatic grandstanding and bazaar bargaining”, says Emre Peker, Europe analyst at Eurasia Group.

The inflection point, says Peker, will be Turkish local elections scheduled for next March. If Erdoğan detects political advantage in chastising the US and wagging his finger at NATO allies still, he can have his lawmakers withhold approval for Sweden until after that vote, if he likes.

Either way, that timeline would – in theory – make it possible to see Swedish meatballs on the menu at the NATO summit in Washington in July, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the alliance.

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