Erdogan says Turkey is positive about Finland’s bid for NATO, not Sweden

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

“Our position on Finland is positive, but it is not positive on Sweden,” Erdogan said in a speech to his deputies in parliament from the Justice and Development Party.

Sweden and Finland last year applied to join the transatlantic defense pact after Russia invaded Ukraine, but they were unexpectedly confronted objections from Turkey and has since sought to gain its support.

Ankara wants Helsinki and Stockholm in particular to take a tougher line against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey and the European Union consider a terrorist group, and another group it blames for the 2016 coup attempt.

The three countries reached an agreement on the way forward in Madrid last June, but Ankara suspended the talks last month as tensions escalated following protests in Stockholm in which a far-right Danish politician burned a copy of the Koran.

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Erdogan said, “Sweden should not bother trying at this stage. We will not say ‘yes’ to their NATO request as long as they allow the burning of the Qur’an.”

The Swedish foreign minister said there could be no compromise on freedom of expression, but that Sweden would continue to implement the Madrid Agreement.

“It is very clear what is necessary for Sweden to become a member of NATO and that is that we meet the requirements in the tripartite agreement,” he told national news agency TT.

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“Religion is not part of the agreement.”

At the end of the week, Erdogan indicated that Ankara might agree to Finland joining NATO before Sweden. But Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Monday that his country is committed to its plan to advance jointly with Sweden.

Of the 30 NATO members, Turkey and Hungary have not yet ratified Nordic membership.

Asked if Turkey had plans for separate operations for Finland and Sweden, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said that it would be NATO and the Nordic countries that would decide on any separate ratifications.

“If NATO and the two countries decide to conduct separate membership processes, Turkey will of course reconsider Finland’s membership separately and more positively,” Cavusoglu said at a press conference with his Estonian counterpart in Tallinn.

On Wednesday, Finland reiterated its position that it would act in concert with its northern neighbour.

“Finland continues to push forward the membership process with Sweden,” the joint presidential and governmental commission on Finnish security and foreign policy said in a statement.

“The fastest possible verification of membership of both countries is in the interests of Finland, Sweden and NATO as a whole,” she added.

(Reporting) Submitted by Nevzat Divranoglu and Ezgi Erkoyon; Additional reporting by Essi Leto in Helsinki and Simon Johnson in Stockholm; Written by Hussain Hayatsever. Editing by Darren Butler, Jonathan Spicer, Ben Dangerfield, and Bernadette Baum

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