NEWS Erdogan says Turkey is positive about Finland joining NATO, not Sweden

Erdogan says Turkey is positive about Finland joining NATO, not Sweden

ANKARA, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey viewed Finland’s bid to join NATO positively but did not support Sweden’s bid.

“Our position towards Finland is positive, but not towards Sweden,” Erdogan said in a speech to his AK Party representatives in parliament about their NATO application.

Sweden and Finland applied to join the transatlantic defense pact last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but have been trying to win its support since facing unexpected opposition from Turkey.

Ankara in particular wants Helsinki and Stockholm to take a tougher stance against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and the European Union, and another group blamed for a 2016 coup attempt.

The three countries reached an agreement in Madrid last June on the way forward, but Ankara suspended talks last month as tensions rose after protests in Stockholm saw a far-right Danish politician burn the Muslim holy book, the Koran a copy of.

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“Sweden shouldn’t bother trying now. As long as they allow the burning of the Koran, we won’t say ‘yes’ to their NATO application,” Erdogan said.

Sweden’s foreign minister says there can be no compromise on freedom of expression, but Sweden will continue to implement the Madrid agreement.

“The necessary condition for Sweden to become a member of NATO is very clear, and that is that we meet the requirements in the trilateral agreement,” he told state news agency TT.

“Religion is not part of the agreement.”

Over the weekend, Erdogan said Ankara might agree to Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden. But Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Havisto said on Monday his country was sticking to plans for a joint application with Sweden.

Of NATO’s 30 members, only Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify membership in the Nordic countries.

Asked whether Turkey planned separate procedures for Finland and Sweden, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said NATO and the two Nordic countries would decide on any separate ratifications.

“If NATO and the two countries decide to use a separate accession procedure, of course Turkey would reconsider Finland’s accession separately and it would be more favorable,” Cavusoglu told a news conference with Estonian foreign ministers in Tallinn.

Finland on Wednesday reiterated its position that it would move in tandem with its Nordic neighbours.

“Finland will continue to advance the membership process together with Sweden,” the Joint Presidential and Government Council for Finland’s Security and Foreign Policy said in a statement.

“It is in the best interests of Finland, Sweden and NATO as a whole to achieve membership of both countries as soon as possible,” it added.

Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu and Ezgi Erkoyun; Additional reporting by Essi Lehto in Helsinki and Simon Johnson in Stockholm; Writing by Huseyin Hayatsever; Editing by Daren Butler, Jonathan Spicer, Ben Dangerfield and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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