NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg commented on the agreement between Turkey and Sweden on Monday night. Several NATO countries were also involved in the background. Only in the last hour were the countries able to reach an agreement. The site for NATO’s summit in Vilnius is an exhibition area prepared for the purpose. It’s Monday afternoon, July 10th.
Inside the area, a black parked car has a small label with the letters “SG” on the windshield. They stand for Secretary General and reveal that NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg is on-site behind the closed doors.
A year has passed since NATO’s last summit in Madrid, where Sweden and Finland were invited to become NATO countries. However, Sweden’s accession protocol to NATO has not been approved, ratified, by Turkey and Hungary.
Now, the evening before the summit begins, the issue will be settled. Stoltenberg’s goal is to get “binding promises to ratify Sweden.” NATO – that is, the 29 countries that have approved Sweden as an ally – wants to get the issue out of the way. That’s why Stoltenberg is waiting for Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan already one day before the summit.
When Erdogan’s plane lands at Vilnius Airport, the cars that drive out to meet the delegation are so many that they form a winding snake. The plane is so large that they have borrowed a staircase from Riga Airport to reach the plane door in Vilnius.
The smaller Swedish government plane that lands shortly thereafter, however, has the stairs built into the door and easily folds down to the ground. A handful of cars drive away with Kristersson’s party.
Side by side, the planes resemble a large albatross and a small tern.
Kristersson’s delegation, with chief negotiator Oscar Stenström, Foreign Minister Tobias Billström, Defense Minister Pål Jonson, and staff arrive first at Stoltenberg at the appointed time of 5:30 pm in six cars. Erdogan arrives fifteen minutes later in a car with Turkish flags on the front fenders, with a total of 12 cars in the convoy.
First, Stoltenberg, Erdogan, and Kristersson meet alone in a room. Then there is a joint meeting with everyone from the three delegations.
– “When we left these more overarching discussions and entered into text negotiations under Jens Stoltenberg’s leadership, then I thought that the tone was that everyone wanted to solve this,” confirms Ulf Kristersson.
– “An hour into the meeting, the work began on a concrete text that the three parties could agree on,” says Stian Jenssen.
He is Stoltenberg’s chief of staff and leads the concrete work on the text. When Swedish and Turkish Foreign Ministers Tobias Billström and Hakan Fidan met the week before, on Thursday, July 6th, in Brussels, they were given a draft text to consider over the weekend.
But the clock is ticking. In the midst of it all, Erdogan has a previously agreed meeting with European Council President Charles Michel. Erdogan offers to cancel the meeting with Michel, but NATO advises him to hold onto it.
While Erdogan is away, the delegations continue negotiating the text. At 8:45 pm, Charles Michel left the exhibition site.
Whether the meeting with Michel affects Erdogan is unclear. However, it is clear that several individual countries are acting in the background to create such good conditions that Erdogan can give the green light to Sweden this evening. The most important country is the United States, and a known bait is US F-16 fighter planes.
But Jens Stoltenberg has been careful not to make the negotiations between NATO, Sweden, and Turkey dependent on what different NATO countries can or cannot offer Turkey.
– “This is not a bazaar. Turkey has real problems with terrorism, and Sweden has taken a number of concrete measures. However, different NATO countries, separately, have created good conditions for a settlement,” says Stian Jenssen.
An example is that Ulf Kristersson was hastily invited to visit the White House on Wednesday before the Vilnius meeting. President Joe Biden wanted to inform him that the United States had put together a “package” of offers to Turkey. Turkey would “likely” let Sweden in, according to sources in Washington. The Prime Minister partly confirms this:
– “The United States was not only willing to say that they want to see Sweden in NATO but also to act and contribute to it. I have also felt that from NATO headquarters and Jens,” says Ulf Kristersson.
NATO coordinated with the United States so that Joe Biden called Erdogan on Sunday, the day before the Vilnius meeting. Biden offered to work for the F-16 planes and closer cooperation with Turkey and Greece.
According to sources in DN, a Turkish state visit to the United States is also looming – assuming Turkey lets Sweden into NATO.
– “Erdogan gets fighter jets, is treated with respect and gets increased American focus on the eastern Mediterranean area,” says Jim Townsend. He is a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and works for the think tank CNAS and is in Vilnius.
– “But the reason for the settlement is that Sweden has taken terrorism seriously, made new commitments and taken a number of measures. What the United States contributes is the icing on the cake,” he adds.
Other NATO countries are contributing ahead of the meeting – on the condition that Turkey drops opposition to Sweden. One of them is Canada, which pledges to deliver military drone technology.
After his conversation with Charles Michel, Erdogan returns. First, Stoltenberg and Erdogan speak alone for a while. Then they all gather again.
Erdogan reads the document in seven points that is now on the table and approves it. The three leaders shake hands, and Erdogan gives a verbal promise to take Sweden’s accession protocol to parliament “as soon as possible.”
At 10:20 pm local time, Stoltenberg announces the news at a press conference:
– “To complete Sweden’s accession to NATO is a historic step that benefits the security of all NATO allies at this critical time,” he says.
– “I am very happy that we shook hands, all three of us,” says a relieved Ulf Kristersson at his press conference at 10:54 pm.
There’s not a word from Erdogan. Only late on Wednesday afternoon, nearly two days after the settlement, when the summit is over and Kristersson’s delegation is on the plane, does the president act.
In his press conference, Erdogan is ambiguous about when an approval can occur. He says “as soon as possible,” but also that parliament is on vacation, so it will “probably be in October.”
At the same time, he emphasizes that Turkey’s position on Cyprus remains unchanged and that he expects Sweden to respect it.
However, for Sweden, the approval by Turkey is the most important thing. They will continue to work on the Cyprus issue, but for now, they can celebrate their long-awaited approval by NATO.
As the planes take off from Vilnius, it marks the end of a long journey for Sweden to finally be recognized as a member of NATO. The negotiations were tough, but in the end, diplomacy prevailed. Sweden can now look forward to closer cooperation with its NATO allies and increased security in an uncertain world.