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Turkey: Sweden and Finland Nato bid likely to be postponed until after elections

Finnish foreign minister doesn't expect progress before elections in Turkey as Ankara sends similar signals
Protesters burn the national flag of Sweden as they demonstrate in front of the Consulate General of Sweden after Rasmus Paludan, leader of Danish far-right political party Hard Line and who also has Swedish citizenship burned a copy of the Koran near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, in Istanbul, on January 21, 2023. (AFP)
Protesters in Istanbul burn the Swedish flag in front of the country's Consulate General after Swedish citizen and leader of the Danish far-right party Hard Line, Rasmus Paludan, burned a copy of the Koran near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, on 21 January 2023 (AFP)

Turkey is likely to hold off on ratifying the Nato membership of Sweden and Finland until after the Turkish presidential elections in May, the Finnish foreign minister suggested on Tuesday.

Pekka Haavisto said during a news conference that he believed a break was needed in talks between the two Nordic countries and Turkey following anger at the burning of a Quran by a far-right activist outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm last week.

He added that a decision by Ankara on the issue was unlikely before the elections. 

Turkey's president on Monday said Sweden should not expect his country's support for Nato membership following the incident. 

"Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their Nato membership," Erdogan said in a speech after a cabinet meeting.

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"If you love members of terrorist organisations and enemies of Islam so much and protect them, then we advise you to seek their support for your countries' security."

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join Nato following Russia's invasion of Ukraine but all 30 member states must approve their bids.

Both countries also signed a trilateral memorandum in which they promised to alleviate Ankara’s concerns regarding groups it views as terrorist based in the two countries.

The changes would enable the Swedish government to crack down on recruitment, financing, and activities of groups such as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long struggle against the Turkish state and is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the US, EU, and Turkey.

Six more months

Sweden's constitutional amendments have been in effect since 1 January but more changes to the relevant laws in accordance with the amendments could take some time.

Turkish presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin told journalists earlier this month that Stockholm had asked for six more months to codify relevant laws and fulfill Turkish requests.

Kalin warned that the Turkish parliament would go into recess two months prior to the elections and Sweden did not have much time to make changes before then.

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Hande Firat, a Turkish columnist at Hurriyet newspaper with well-placed sources within the Turkish government, wrote on Tuesday that Ankara wouldn’t make any further decisions on the Nordic countries’ Nato bid before the elections.

“Sweden should not rely on the United States or other Nato members regarding Nato membership,” she said. 

“Sweden's Nato membership is dependent on the full implementation of the agreement signed with Turkey and the development of bilateral relations.”

The Quran burning was carried out by Rasmus Paludan, the leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Paludan, who also has Swedish citizenship, has staged a number of demonstrations in the past where he burnt the Islamic holy book.

Several Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait denounced the event. Turkey had already summoned Sweden's ambassador and cancelled a planned visit by the Swedish defence minister to Ankara.

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