Sweden's foreign minister says NATO talks with Turkey progressing well

STOCKHOLM, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Talks between Sweden and Turkey are progressing well and Stockholm hopes Ankara will ratify the Nordic country's NATO application well before an alliance summit in July, Sweden's foreign minister said on Thursday.

Sweden and Finland applied in May to join NATO in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but ran into objections from Turkey which accused the Nordic countries of harbouring militants, including from the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

"Things are progressing well, we had an excellent meeting today," Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Reuters after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara.

At a press conference after the meeting Cavusoglu acknowledged that Sweden had taken steps to meet conditions spelt out in a memorandum between the three countries but said more needed to be done.

Billstrom said Sweden had already made good progress and said tougher anti-terrorism laws that will come into force on Jan. 1 in Sweden had been welcomed by Ankara.

"It's not strange that Turkey says there are more things that need to be done. We are not there yet, these things need to be implemented first, but we have taken many steps," Billstrom said, adding that Sweden had also lifted an arms export embargo to Turkey.

The NATO application has so far been ratified by 28 of the 30 member countries. Hungary has said its parliament will approve the application in early 2023. Ankara says a decision could come after elections due in June.

"We hope that we can become members at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July, at the latest," Billstrom said. "Our target is to have the application ratified by the Turkish parliament long before that," he said.

One sticking point has been extraditions of persons Turkey regards as terrorists and Cavusoglu lamented a decision earlier this week, when Sweden's top court denied a request from Ankara to extradite a journalist with alleged links to Islamic scholar Fetullah Gulen, blamed by Turkey for an attempted coup.

Billstrom said Sweden had an independent judiciary and that there was nothing the government could do to change such decisions.

"Our courts are bound by Swedish and international laws, including the European Extradition Convention, which Turkey also has signed, I might add," he said.

Reporting by Johan Ahlander

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