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Turkish FM says impossible for Turkey to approve Sweden’s NATO bid at the present time

Mevlut Cavusoglu

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu looks on during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, at the State Department in Washington, DC, on January 18, 2023. LEAH MILLIS / POOL / AFP

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has reiterated his country’s opposition to the entry of Sweden to NATO, saying it is impossible at the moment for Turkey to say “yes” to the Nordic country’s membership in the Western defense alliance, the Gazete Duvar news website reported.

Çavuşoğlu’s remarks came at a news conference with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó during a visit to Budapest on Tuesday.

“If Sweden fulfills its responsibilities, we will sit down and talk. But it is impossible for us at the moment to say ‘yes’ to Sweden’s NATO membership. We cancelled a third meeting [with Swedish officials]. It would have taken place in Brussels,” said Çavuşoğlu.

Turkey last week postponed NATO accession talks with Sweden and Finland after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized Sweden for allowing weekend protests that included the burning of the Quran outside Ankara’s Stockholm embassy.

A Turkish diplomatic source told Agence France-Presse that the trilateral meeting was pushed back from February to a “later date,” without providing further details.

Finland, which shares a 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) border with Russia, and Sweden decided jointly to end their decades-long policies of military non-alignment, winning formal support for their plans at a historic NATO summit in June.

The two countries’ bids were then swiftly ratified by 28 of NATO’s 30 member states, highlighting the issue’s urgency in the face of Russia’s aggression. Bids to join NATO must be ratified by all members of the alliance, of which Turkey is a member.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has promised that his parliament would approve the two bids next month.

But Erdoğan has dug in his heels heading into a close presidential election in which he is trying to energize his nationalist base.

Ankara has refused to ratify the two countries’ NATO membership bids, primarily because of Sweden’s refusal to extradite dozens of suspects that Ankara links to outlawed Kurdish militants and a failed 2016 coup attempt.

Erdoğan on Sunday drew a clear distinction between the positions taken by Sweden and Finland in the past few months.

“If necessary, we can give a different response concerning Finland. Sweden will be shocked when we give a different response for Finland,” Erdoğan said.

Sweden has a bigger Kurdish diaspora than Finland and a more serious dispute with Ankara.

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