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Turkey favors approval of Finland’s NATO bid before Sweden’s


ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey could make Finland’s membership in NATO greener than Sweden’s, if the military alliance and both Scandinavian countries agree, Turkey’s foreign minister said Monday.

But Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haaivisto poured cold water on that suggestion, saying it was important for Finland and Sweden to join NATO at the same time.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described Finland’s application as “less problematic” than Sweden’s. Turkey accuses Stockholm of not taking concrete steps to crack down on groups Ankara considers terrorists. More recently, he has been enraged by Quran-burning protests organized outside the Turkish embassies in Stockholm and Copenhagen by an anti-Islam activist of Swedish and Danish nationality.

“In my opinion, it would be fair to distinguish between the problematic country and the less problematic country,” Cavusoglu told journalists at a joint press conference with his visiting Portuguese counterpart. “We believe that if NATO and these countries make such a decision, we can evaluate (Finland’s bid) separately.”

Sweden and Finland have jointly applied to join the military alliance, abandoning their longstanding military non-alignment following Russia’s war against Ukraine.

NATO needs unanimous approval to admit new members. Turkey and Hungary have delayed the ratification process of the Swedish and Finnish bids in their parliaments.

In Helsinki, Haaivisto said his country’s “strong desire … has been, and still is, to join NATO together with Sweden”.

“We have underlined to all our future NATO partners, including Hungary and Turkey, that Finnish and Swedish security go hand in hand,” the Finnish minister said, adding that the two countries could join for a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in July.

“I think it will be an important milestone, but of course we cannot decide on their timetable on behalf of Turkey or Hungary. We are in their hands,” he said.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Twitter on Monday that he discussed “the current situation” in a phone conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Turkey has accused the government in Stockholm of being too lenient towards groups it considers to be terrorist organizations or existential threats, including Kurdish groups.

“Some steps have been taken in Sweden, such as constitutional amendments and legislative changes,” Cavusoglu said. “Unfortunately, steps have been taken back because of the provocations of groups that want to prevent Sweden from joining NATO.”

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also suggested Ankara could sign Finland’s application in a “shock” to Sweden.

He said Turkey had provided a list of 120 people it wants to extradite from Sweden, a demand that was part of a memorandum signed in June that overturned Turkey’s veto over the Nordic nations’ joint request.

Turkey is demanding the extradition of alleged PKK militants and some followers of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist cleric accused of the 2016 coup attempt.

After last week’s protests, Erdogan warned Sweden not to expect support for his membership bid. Turkey has also indefinitely postponed an important meeting in Brussels that would have discussed the membership of Sweden and Finland.

Sweden’s chief negotiator Oscar Stenström told Swedish Radio early Sunday that the three-way talks have been suspended to prevent the situation from worsening.

Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen contributed from Copenhagen, Denmark.

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