ANKARA, Feb. 1 (Reuters) – Turkey welcomes Finland’s application for NATO membership but does not support Sweden’s bid, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
“Our position on Finland is positive, but it is not positive on Sweden,” Erdogan said of their NATO applications in a speech to his AK party deputies in parliament.
Sweden and Finland applied to join the transatlantic defense pact last year after Russia invaded Ukraine, but faced unexpected objections from Turkey and have since tried to win their support.
In particular, Ankara wants Helsinki and Stockholm to take a tougher stance against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), considered a terror group by Turkey and the European Union, and another group it blames for an attempted coup in 2016.
The three nations reached an agreement in Madrid last June on how to proceed, but Ankara suspended talks last month as tensions rose after protests in Stockholm saw a far-right Danish politician burn a copy of the Islamic holy book, the Quran.
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“Sweden shouldn’t bother trying at this point. We won’t say ‘yes’ to their NATO application as long as they allow the burning of the Quran,” Erdogan said.
Sweden’s foreign minister said that no compromise could be made on freedom of expression, but that Sweden will continue to implement the Madrid agreement.
“It is very clear what is needed for Sweden to join NATO and that is that we meet the requirements set out in the trilateral agreement,” he told the national news agency TT.
“Religion is not part of the deal.”
Over the weekend, Erdogan signaled that Ankara could agree to Finland joining NATO before Sweden. But Finland’s foreign minister, Pekka Haavisto, said on Monday that his country is sticking to its plan to apply with Sweden.
Of the 30 NATO members, only Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify membership of the Nordic countries.
When asked if Turkey has plans for separate processes for Finland and Sweden, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that it would be NATO and the two Nordic countries that would decide on separate ratifications.
“If NATO and the two countries decide on separate membership procedures, Turkey will naturally reconsider Finland’s membership separately and more favourably,” Cavusoglu said at a press conference with his Estonian counterpart in Tallinn.
Finland on Wednesday reiterated its position that it will catch up with its Nordic neighbour.
“Finland, together with Sweden, continues to advance the membership process,” the joint presidential and government commission on Finnish security and foreign policy said in a statement.
“The fastest possible realization of membership of both countries is in the interest of Finland, Sweden and all of NATO,” it added.
Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu and Ezgi Erkoyun; additional reporting by Essi Lehto in Helsinki and Simon Johnson in Stockholm; Written by Huseyin Hayatsever; Edited by Daren Butler, Jonathan Spicer, Ben Dangerfield and Bernadette Baum
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