Finnish, Swedish FMs say NATO membership bid still on table
As anger escalates in Ankara over a series of incidents affecting ties and jeopardizing the NATO membership process of Sweden, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said the member dialogue was ongoing, echoing remarks of his Finnish counterpart.
On Saturday, Billström said discussions were on hold. He acknowledged in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen that Turkish anger over recent demonstrations and the burning of the Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm had complicated Sweden’s NATO accession. To admit new countries, NATO requires unanimous approval from its existing members, of which Türkiye is one. Despite this, the Swedish government is hopeful of joining NATO this summer, Billström said. “We’re looking toward the (NATO) summit in Vilnius,” Lithuania’s capital, in July, Billström told Expressen when asked about the timetable for Sweden’s possible accession.
Quoted by Turkish media outlets, Billström’s press adviser Anna Erhardt said on Sunday that the foreign minister’s remarks on the suspension of discussions were “misunderstood” and a memorandum between Sweden, Finland and Türkiye was still working.
Hungary and Türkiye are the only countries in the 30-member Western military alliance that haven’t signed off on Finland’s and Sweden’s applications. While Hungary has pledged to do so in February, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Thursday that a planned meeting in Brussels to discuss Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership was postponed.
Such a meeting would have been “meaningless” following last weekend’s events in Stockholm, Çavuşoğlu said. They included protests by sympathizers of the PKK terrorist group and the burning of Islam’s holy book outside the Turkish Embassy by a far-right Danish politician, Rasmus Paludan.
Expressen quoted Billström on Saturday as saying that the work to get Sweden and Finland into NATO was not on hold. “The NATO process has not paused. On the contrary, the (Swedish) government continues to implement the memorandum between Sweden, Finland and Türkiye. But it is up to Türkiye to decide when they will ratify,” he said.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto echoed his Swedish counterpart and said the two countries planned to continue a joint journey toward NATO. “In my view, the road to NATO hasn’t closed for either country,” Haavisto said in an interview with Finnish public broadcaster YLE. He said that Ankara’s announcement to defer trilateral talks with Finland, Sweden and Türkiye for now “represents an extension of time from the Turkish side and that the matter can be revisited after the Turkish elections” set for May 14. Haavisto said he was hopeful that the time frame would allow Finland and Sweden’s membership to be finalized at Lithuania’s July 11-12 NATO summit.
Türkiye has frequently voiced that it does not oppose NATO enlargement but criticizes Stockholm for not taking action against elements posing a security threat to Ankara.
Last June, Türkiye and the two Nordic countries signed a memorandum to address Ankara’s legitimate security concerns, paving the way for their eventual membership in the alliance.
But recent provocative demonstrations by terrorist supporters and Islamophobic figures in Stockholm have led Turkish leaders to question Sweden’s commitment to take the steps necessary to gain NATO membership.
Ankara has long criticized Stockholm for housing members of various terrorist organizations, particularly members of the PKK and, in recent years, the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) – the organization behind the 2016 defeated coup attempt in Türkiye.
Ahead of a historic NATO summit, the three countries signed a trilateral deal in June that prevented a Turkish veto. In the memorandum, the Nordic countries said they would address Türkiye’s extradition requests for terrorists. In addition, the joint directive states that Finland and Sweden “will not support the organization described as FETÖ” and terrorist groups.