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Turkey's president agrees to allowing Sweden into NATO

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today a major development just one day ahead of tomorrow's NATO summit - Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has agreed to move forward with Sweden's nomination to the military alliance. He was the holdout vote. This brings to an end months of speculation about what Erdogan would do given his long list of demands for moving ahead with Sweden's nomination. For more on that dynamics at play, we have called on Asli Aydintasbas of the Brookings Institution. Welcome.

ASLI AYDINTASBAS: Hi - good to be here.

KELLY: Glad to have you with us. President Erdogan had been bulking on this for months. So what's your reaction? What do you think happened?

AYDINTASBAS: Erdogan had been dragging his feet for almost a year, accusing Sweden of supporting terrorism - of course, his definition of terrorism and what a terrorist is tends to be very wide - and accusing Sweden of, you know, harboring people he considers terrorists. But also, issues like Quran burnings that took place in Sweden this summer have not made it easier. But behind the scenes, we had the Biden administration very involved in the process. There were two tracks - one, the public one between Turkey and Sweden, but the real negotiations were taking place between Ankara and Washington.

KELLY: And, again, those negotiations had been happening for months. Do you have any sense of what may have changed to shift things today?

AYDINTASBAS: I think it crystallized in Turkish demand for F-16s. Turkey had been wanting to buy F-16s from the U.S.

KELLY: F-16 fighter jets. Go on.

AYDINTASBAS: There was a congressional hold on this - quite a big-ticket item, as in 40 new jets and 80 - upgrading 80 of its existing. Of course, Turkey has undergone U.S. sanctions after it bought Russian missile systems a few years back. So Congress and congressional leaders had reservations. And they were also - they were concerned about Erdogan's domestic record, democratic backsliding but also regional policies, assertive policies in the Aegean that felt - that, of course, concerned Greeks.

It seems the administration worked out a big megadeal that involves Greece - President Biden spoke to a Greek leader a few days ago - that involves Greece, Ankara and Congress, U.S. Congress, and did so behind the scenes. And until today's announcement, which just came about less than an hour ago, everyone assumed Erdogan would drag his foot and really not let Sweden in.

KELLY: Indeed. I'll just note in the department of getting overtaken by events, you just this afternoon published an op-ed in The Washington Post headlined "Bargaining With Erdogan Over Sweden Joining NATO Will Be Difficult." And here we are with the summit not even officially underway, and we have this deal in place. I do want to ask about one line from that that may not have been overtaken by events. You note, and I quote, that "Erdogan has the leverage to extract maximum concessions from the West." What else does he want, big picture?

AYDINTASBAS: So he held a press conference this morning that I watched online early here. And he brought up EU accession negotiations for Turkey, for Turkey's entry into the EU. We want progress on that, he said. Open the way. EU should open the way for Turkey, and so then we can open the way for Sweden to enter NATO. Of course, open the way is a very vague expression, but he's trying to extract also certain concessions from the European Union. This is, of course, happening with a gun pointing to NATO's head. But on the other hand, it is a good signal that Turkey wants to pivot to the West. If that is really the case, that could have all types of implications, both in terms of geopolitics and in sort of driving a wedge between Erdogan and Putin.

KELLY: Right. So in the few seconds we have left, tell me the one thing you would advise us to keep our eyes on that you'll be watching for as the NATO conference kicks off tomorrow.

AYDINTASBAS: I think Erdogan will be celebrated at tomorrow's conference. He's timed this well. But we should be watching to see not tomorrow but the next few weeks and months - to see whether or not this could be an opening for Turkey to pivot back to the West.

KELLY: OK. We will leave it there for now, and we will be watching. Asli Aydintasbas of the Brookings Institution. Thanks so much.

AYDINTASBAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAMBCHOP SONG, "STEVE MCQUEEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.