Russian-Ukrainian war news – live updates

Turkey agreed on Monday to pave the way for Sweden to join NATO, a sudden turnaround hours after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the European Union should first advance his country’s request to join the EU bloc.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Turkey’s decision from Vilnius, Lithuania, where the alliance was preparing to open its annual summit on Tuesday.

Mr Stoltenberg said Mr Erdogan had raised his objections to Sweden joining the alliance and would take the country’s offer to his parliament for ratification as soon as possible.

In return, Sweden and Turkey would continue to work bilaterally against terrorism, Sweden would help reinvigorate Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, and NATO would set up a new “special coordinator for counterterrorism,” he said.

The two countries agreed that “counter-terrorism cooperation is a long-term effort, which will continue beyond Sweden’s accession to NATO,” said an alliance statement.

“This is good for all of us,” Stoltenberg said. “This is good for Sweden – Sweden will become a full member – and it’s good for Turkey because Turkey is a NATO ally who will benefit from a stronger NATO.”

The statement said Erdogan met with Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Monday to discuss the country’s bid, which had been hampered by Turkey’s demands that Sweden crack down on dissidents Turkey considers terrorists, including pro- -Kurds. and members of a religious group that Turkey accused of planning a coup attempt in 2016.

Hungary is the only other NATO member that has yet to approve Sweden’s offer, but Hungarian officials said if Turkey’s stance changed, they would not obstruct the process.

President Biden, who arrived in Vilnius on Monday, said in a statement that he welcomed Erdogan’s pledge to submit Sweden’s bid for “rapid ratification” by the Turkish parliament.

“I am ready to work with President Erdogan and Turkey to strengthen defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Biden said. He also thanked Mr. Stoltenberg for his “consistent leadership” and added that he was looking forward to welcoming Mr. Kristersson and Sweden as the 32nd member of the alliance.

Erdogan’s lawsuit over EU membership — a day before the opening of NATO’s two-day summit — appeared to have erected a new barrier to admission for Sweden, a major producer of artillery, airplanes and other weapons with a geographic location that allows control of the airspace over the Baltic Sea.

“First, pave the way for Turkey into the European Union, then we will pave the way for Sweden as we did for Finland,” Erdogan told reporters before traveling to the summit, referring to his country’s decision to withdraw objections to the question of Finland, which joined the alliance in April.

Sweden, like Finland, was prompted to apply for NATO membership last year by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. At a NATO summit in Madrid last year, officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland outlined steps that would secure Turkey’s support – a crucial requirement, because all NATO nations must agree to admit new members.

In recent months, Sweden has made efforts to meet Turkey’s demands, amending its constitution, passing new anti-terrorism legislation and agreeing to extradite several Turks accused of crimes in Turkey. But Swedish courts have blocked further extraditions, and Swedish officials said they could not overrule their country’s free speech protections.

Erdogan went on to say Sweden needs to do more.

A new complication emerged last month after a man publicly burned a Koran at a protest in Stockholm during a major Muslim holiday. Erdogan criticized Sweden for allowing the protest and said Swedish authorities needed to combat Islamophobia, even though that had not been among the issues Sweden had agreed with Turkey to address.

But the breakthrough on the eve of the summit could mean Sweden could join the alliance soon. Turkey’s parliament is in session until July 27 and the body needed just two weeks to approve Finland’s bid after Erdogan agreed to back it in March.

Turkey applied to join the European Union in 1987, but there has been almost no progress in its bid since 2016, when the European Parliament voted to suspend accession talks as it criticized a sweeping crackdown by the Turkish government on political opponents after a failed coup against Erdogan.

Ben Hubbard reported from Istanbul, e LaraJakes AND steven erlanger from Vilnius, Lithuania. Gulsin Harman contributed reporting from Istanbul, e Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.