Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country could approve Sweden’s membership of Nato if European nations “open the way” to Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.

Mr Erdogan, whose country has been holding off its final approval to Sweden’s Nato membership, made the comments in Ankara on Monday before departing to the alliance’s summit meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Turkey is a candidate to join the EU, but its membership bid has stalled due to Ankara’s democratic backsliding and disputes with EU member Cyprus.

Erdogan and Kristersson  shake hands
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson shake hands next to Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg prior to their meeting on the eve of a Nato summit in Vilnius (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency/AP)

Mr Erdogan said: “Turkey has been waiting at the door of the European Union for over 50 years now, and almost all of the Nato member countries are now members of the European Union.

“I am making this call to these countries that have kept Turkey waiting at the gates of the European Union for more than 50 years.

“Come and open the way for Turkey’s membership in the European Union. When you pave the way for Turkey, we’ll pave the way for Sweden as we did for Finland.”

Earlier on Monday, Sweden’s foreign minister had expressed optimism that Turkey would drop its objections to Swedish Nato membership, saying the Nordic’s country’s accession is a question of when, not if.

Mr Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson are expected to meet later on Monday in Vilnius ahead of the two-day Nato summit.

Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billstrom told public broadcaster SVT that he expects Turkey will eventually signal that it will let Sweden join the alliance, though he could not say whether that would happen at the annual summit.

“What we are counting on, of course, is to reach a point where we get a message back from President Erdogan that there will be what you might call a green light … a message that the ratification process in the Turkish Parliament can start,” Mr Billstrom said.

Swedish foreign minister
Sweden’s top diplomat Tobias Billstrom has expressed optimism that Turkey will drop its objections to Swedish Nato membership (AP)

Turkey has stalled Sweden’s Nato accession, saying it needs to do more to crack down on Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers as threats to its national security.

Anti-Turkey and anti-Islam protests in Stockholm raised doubts that an agreement could be reached before the alliance’s summit.

Mr Billstrom said Sweden has fulfilled its part of a tri-partite deal that Sweden, Finland and Turkey signed at last year’s Nato summit in Madrid.

“We should consider it as a settled question in the sense that it is not a question of ‘if’,” he said.

“In connection with the Nato summit in Madrid last year, Turkey already gave Sweden status as an invitee to Nato. It is therefore a question of ‘when’.”

Mr Billstrom said he expects Hungary, which also has not ratified Sweden’s accession, to do so before Turkey.

Leaders of Nato countries are meeting in Vilnius (AP)

In a statement, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that “Finnish – and soon Swedish – membership of the alliance is a historic milestone for Nato, the Nordic region and Denmark’s security. And there is no doubt that they will strengthen the security of all allies”.

Previously, non-aligned Sweden and Finland applied for Nato membership last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland joined in April this year.

Another key issue discussed in Vilnius will be how to bring Ukraine closer to Nato without it actually joining, as well as any security guarantees that Kyiv might need to ensure that Russia doesn’t invade again after the war ends.

Mr Stoltenberg said that the most important thing was to continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to resist the Russian invasion.

“Unless Ukraine prevails there is no membership issue to discuss at all,” he said.