Turkey may soon give the green light for Finland to join NATO but will continue to oppose Swedish membership of the alliance, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Sunday.
During a televised meeting with young voters, the Turkish president suggested for the first time his country may come to different conclusions on the applications from the two Scandinavian countries to join the defense alliance.
“If necessary, we can give a different response concerning Finland,” Erdoğan said. “Sweden will be shocked when we give a different response for Finland,” he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reiterated the position on Monday, telling a press conference in Ankara that Turkey would evaluate the applications made by Sweden and Finland separately.
“I think it would be fair to distinguish between a problematic country and a less problematic country,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters.
Relations have soured between Stockholm and Ankara in recent years stemming from a long-running dispute over Sweden allowing people Turkey deems to be terrorists to take up residency in the country, including pro-Kurdish groups who regularly demonstrate against Erdoğan’s administration in the Swedish capital.
Quran book burning in Sweden enrages Turkey, scuttles planned NATO accession talks
The burning of the Islamic holy book has enraged the Turkish government, which called off a planned meeting with Swedish counterparts to discuss Sweden and Finland’s ambition for NATO accession
“If you absolutely want to join NATO, you will return these terrorists to us,” Erdoğan said on Sunday.
Tensions deteriorated further between the two countries early this month after a fringe Danish, anti-Islam politician was permitted to hold a rally in Stockholm during which he burned a copy of the Quran, a highly provocative stunt that left Turkey and many others within the Islamic world incensed.
Scheduled diplomatic talks between Sweden and Turkey’s defense ministers over the former’s NATO accession were swiftly canceled, with Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar claiming the meeting had “lost its significance and meaning.”
The Scandinavian countries dropped their historic stance of non-military alignment in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and formally applied to join the defense alliance last summer.
Turkey is one of the two remaining nations to sign off on both applications for NATO membership. The other, Hungary, is expected to formally approve both Finland and Sweden’s applications in February.