Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom. (AP)
- Turkey stalled Sweden and Finland’s historic bid to join NATO over concerns that the two countries — Sweden in particular — had become a safe haven for members of the PKK and affiliated groups
STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s center-right government will fulfill all requirements under a deal with Turkey to join NATO and will concentrate external relations to its immediate neighborhood while dropping the previous administration’s “feminist foreign policy,” the country’s top diplomat said on Monday.
Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said the new government shares Turkey’s concern about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization in Turkey, Europe and the US.
“There will be no nonsense from the Swedish government when it comes to the PKK,” Billstrom told the Associated Press in an interview.
“We are fully behind a policy which means that terrorist organizations don’t have a right to function on Swedish territory.”
Turkey stalled Sweden and Finland’s historic bid to join NATO over concerns that the two countries — Sweden in particular — had become a safe haven for members of the PKK and affiliated groups.
Under a memorandum of understanding signed by Sweden’s previous left-leaning government at a NATO summit in June, Sweden and Finland committed to not support Kurdish groups in Syria that Turkey says are affiliated
with the PKK and to lift arms embargoes on Turkey imposed after its incursion in northern Syria in 2019.
They also agreed to “address pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects,” which has proven more complicated due the broad definition of terrorism in Turkey, where anti-terror laws have been used to crack down on opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Everything which is written into the trilateral memorandum, and which has been agreed upon by all three parties, should be fulfilled, needs to be fulfilled by all the three parties,” Billstrom said, adding that “everything also has to be done in a legally safe way.”
The PKK has led an armed insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984 and the conflict has since resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of people.
Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University, said the new government may have an advantage over the previous Social Democratic government in dealing with Turkey because it does not have the same links to the Kurdish diaspora in Sweden.
However, the independence of the authorities and the courts in Sweden “sets limits to what is possible, and so does international law,” Levin said.
Hungary and Turkey are the only NATO countries which have not yet ratified the accession of Sweden and Finland, traditionally non-aligned countries which rushed to apply for membership after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Like most European countries, Sweden has clearly taken Ukraine’s side in the war, supplying its armed forces with anti-tank weapons, assault rifles and anti-ship missiles.
Ukraine has also asked Sweden to provide the Archer artillery system and RBS-70 portable air defense system. Billstrom said the new government has not yet decided on those requests.
“We are ready to try and give as much aid as possible to the Ukrainian government in its heroic struggle against the Russian forces,” Billstrom said.
“We shall see when we have made the proper assessments about these matters.”
A former migration minister, Billstrom is a senior member of the conservative Moderate Party, which formed a coalition government last week with the center-right Liberals and Christian Democrats.
The new government relies on support from the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats with whom it has drafted a joint policy platform that includes sharp restrictions on immigration and a crackdown on organized crime.
Billstrom also pledged a shift in Sweden’s foreign relations, with emphasis on northern Europe.
Traditionally Sweden has sought to project itself internationally as a “humanitarian superpower” with relatively generous support for developing countries around the globe and a strong commitment to the United Nations.
“This is not to say that we won’t be interested in the rest of the world, far from it,” Billstrom said, noting that he had given a speech earlier at celebration for UN Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1945 UN charter.
“But when it comes to these recalibrations that we are aiming at, it is true that there will be a shift of focus,” he said. “And the Nordic countries, the Baltic countries and the EU will be the three legs on which we will base this recalibration.”
In addition, the new government will give up the “feminist foreign policy” which the previous government established in 2014. The label has since been used by other countries, including Canada, France, Spain and Germany.
“We believe that equal rights between men and women is important, but to use the expression ‘feminist foreign policy’ means that you sometimes divert the interest away from what is really important. You put more emphasis upon the label than about the actual content,” Billstrom said.