Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Finland’s foreign minister has rejected speculation that his country could enter NATO without neighboring Sweden, after Turkey suggested it may agree to approve Finland’s entry separately, after a controversial anti-Islam protest in Stockholm.
“Finland and Sweden remain in agreement, that irrespective of all current objections and obstacles we will continue our joint journey into NATO,” Pekka Haavisto said in Helsinki. “We plan to work on common measures to ratify our membership and join at the same time.”
“Our strong wish is still to join NATO together with Sweden,” he said. “We have underlined to all our future NATO partners, including Hungary and Turkey, that Finnish and Swedish security go together.”
Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO allies yet to ratify the two Nordic countries’ joint applications to join the transatlantic alliance. Sweden and Finland took the step to abandon a long-held policy of neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February.
Haavisto was commenting after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday Ankara would consider evaluating Finland’s NATO bid separately from Sweden’s.
“I think it would be fair to distinguish between a problematic country and a less problematic country,” the state-owned Anadolu news agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying. “We can evaluate [Finland’s application] separately.”
In mid-January, Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan set fire to a Qur’an in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm.
The fact that Swedish authorities allowed the demonstration to take place prompted Turkey to suspend talks with both Sweden and Finland on their NATO applications. It also cancelled a planned visit by Sweden’s defense minister which had aimed to resolve Turkey’s objections to Sweden's NATO bid.
“Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier.
Cavusoglu then reiterated that stance during a visit to Hungary, saying it was “impossible for us to confirm [Sweden’s] accession” into the alliance, and calling the Qur’an-burning protest a “provocation which will take us nowhere.”
Speaking alongside him, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto criticized earlier statements by Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson that the provocative demonstration fell under Swedish freedom of speech protections.
“As a Christian and as a Catholic, I must say that burning of a holy book of another religion is an unacceptable act,” Szijjarto said, calling Kristersson’s justification “plain stupidity.”
Hungarian lawmakers are expected to vote on Sweden and Finland’s entry into NATO at the first parliamentary session of the year in February, Szijjarto said. He added that Hungary has a “clear standpoint” on admitting the two, without elaborating. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has previously said Hungary supports their entry into NATO.
Turkey, however, has been far more demanding. At its insistence, the two Nordic countries joined a three-way agreement to address Ankara’s “security concerns,” distancing themselves from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) – regarded as a terrorist group by Turkey, the U.S. and the E.U. – as well as its Syrian offshoot, the People’s Defense Units (YPG), which Turkey also views as a terror group but the West does not.
Turkey is particularly focused on Sweden, which has a significantly larger Kurdish diaspora than Finland. Erdogan has said he has a list of 120 individuals he wants extradited from Sweden, but Kristersson said his country could not meet all his demands.
Nonetheless, Erdogan on Sunday doubled down, saying, “You will extradite these terrorists if you really want to enter NATO.”
With Turkish elections looming in May, the Finnish foreign minister said on Monday he did not expect to see any significant progress on the matter until the election.
Haavisto added that “security assurances” from the United States, Britain, and other NATO members enable Finland to remain patient.
“We appreciate those security assurances very much, even if we understand that it is not the same as the NATO article five, but it is very important for us,” he said, referring to the provision in the North Atlantic Treaty stating that an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all.
Sweden’s foreign ministry declined to comment.