Turkey expects to ratify Sweden's NATO accession 'within weeks' - Swedish minister

NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels

By Andrew Gray and Ingrid Melander

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Turkey has told Sweden it expects to ratify its long-delayed accession to the NATO military alliance within weeks, Sweden's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

But Turkey denied it has given any timetable for the ratification.

Sweden and Finland asked to join NATO last year after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, whose country is a NATO member, raised objections over what he said was the two countries' protection of groups that Ankara deems terrorists.

Turkey endorsed Finland's membership bid in April, but has kept Sweden waiting.

"I had a bilateral with my colleague, the (Turkish) foreign minister ... where he told me he expected the ratification to take place within weeks," Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters before the second day of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.

A Turkish diplomatic source told Reuters that Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan did not comment on a timeline for Sweden's accession to the military alliance during his bilateral talks.

Fidan told his counterparts in bilateral talks on the sidelines at the NATO meeting that the Turkish parliament would decide on ratification of Sweden's NATO membership bid, without further elaborating, the source said.

Turkey has demanded that Sweden take more steps to rein in local members of the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.

In response, Stockholm introduced an anti-terrorism bill that makes membership of a terrorist organisation illegal, while also lifting arms export restrictions on Turkey. It says it has upheld its part of a deal signed last year.

Some in NATO had hoped Sweden's ratification would be completed by now, in time for an accession ceremony to take place on the sidelines of the Brussels meeting.

"The Turkish foreign minister didn't present a date but said 'within weeks'," Billstrom said.

In July, Erdogan linked Sweden's NATO membership to Turkey's EU accession for which talks have been frozen for years but EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters on Wednesday that there are still "open issues" before an accession can happen.

The EU said in a statement on Wednesday that it could resume talks with Turkey on negotiating the rapid customs union modernisation and explore possibilities with member states to facilitate access to visa applications.

Sweden's NATO membership is also pending ratification by Hungary.

"(Prime Minister) Viktor Orban has repeatedly said that Hungary won't be the last to ratify Sweden's membership," Billstrom said.

"That means that it is more in the hands of Ankara than maybe of Budapest. We expect white smoke from Budapest the moment there is white smoke from Ankara," Billstrom said.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten, Ingrid Melander and Andrew Gray; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Timothy Heritage and Christina Fincher)