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Sweden pauses NATO process due to several incidents in recent weeks, Swedish FM says

Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billstrom listens to his Turkish counterpart during a joint press conference in Ankara on December 22, 2022. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Sweden’s NATO application process has been “paused” following Turkey’s anger over a Quran burning incident and anti-Erdoğan demonstrations in Sweden, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said Saturday, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported, citing the Swedish Expressen daily.

Speaking to Expressen, Billström said, ”The events of the last few weeks have led to a temporary pause in the process.”

A stunt was staged in Stockholm on January 12 in which an effigy of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was hung by its feet. Turkey summoned Sweden’s ambassador in Ankara to protest the incident.

Another event that prompted Sweden to pause its NATO negotiations with Turkey was a Quran burning that took place outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm on the afternoon of January 21, staged by Rasmus Paludan, a politician from the far-right Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party.

The burning of the Quran has further heightened tensions between Turkey and Sweden, which have increased due to Turkey’s opposition to Sweden joining the NATO military alliance.

Ankara announced a decision to postpone NATO accession talks with Sweden one day after President Erdoğan criticized Sweden for allowing the burning of the Quran in Stockholm.

”Of course, it is the case that recent events have not made things easier, but in the end it is the memorandum and the commitments we made that must govern,” Billström said.

According to Billström, Sweden is very close to fulfilling all the points of an agreement made among Turkey, Sweden and Finland, and he is hopeful that Sweden will become a member of NATO by July, when a NATO summit will be held in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

Elections will be held in Turkey in mid-May, which could affect the process, according to Swedish Daily Dagens Nyheter.

In an interview with Finland’s Yle newspaper, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto also said he believes it is important to continue communications and remain in close contact with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

”NATO’s doors are still open, but it will take a little more time now. And it is important that we continue to cooperate and coordinate work closely with Sweden,” Haavisto said.

Earlier last week Haavisto said Finland might be forced to consider joining NATO without Sweden. Now he stresses that both countries are continuing the application process together and that the goal is for them to become members at the same time. Both Sweden and Finland hope that this will happen before the Vilnius meeting.

“Support for membership in NATO has a very large majority in the Swedish and Finnish parliaments, also among the people. Hopefully it will last and people will have the patience to wait for the parliamentary elections in Turkey so that we can join together with Sweden, make the decisions and then become a member of NATO as soon as possible,” Haavisto said.

President Erdoğan said for the first time on Sunday that Ankara could support Finland’s NATO membership without its Nordic neighbor Sweden.

Both Sweden and its Finland are hoping to join NATO, dropping decades of military non-alignment in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, they need the consent of Turkey, a member of the alliance, to join.

All of NATO’s 30 members must ratify the joint bids, which they have all done with the exception of Hungary and Turkey. Hungary has said it plans to do so in February.

Turkey has stated that its approval is conditional on Swedish steps to extradite 130 people it accuses of terrorism or of having played a part in a 2016 coup attempt against President Erdoğan.

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