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Turkey postpones NATO negotiations with Sweden and Finland

 


Turkey on Tuesday postponed NATO membership talks with Sweden and Finland, further undermining the hopes of its northern neighbors to join the Western defense alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Ankara announced its decision a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Sweden for allowing weekend protests, including the burning of the Koran outside Ankara’s embassy in Stockholm.

A Turkish diplomatic source said the tripartite meeting was pushed back from February to a “later date”, without providing further details.

The move further reduced the chances of the two countries joining NATO ahead of May’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey.

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

The candidacies of the two countries were then quickly ratified by 28 of the 30 member states of NATO, underlining the urgency of the problems in the face of Russian aggression.

Offers of NATO membership must be ratified by all members of the alliance, of which Turkey is a member.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban promised his parliament would approve both offers next month.

But Erdogan has dug in his heels ahead of a tight presidential election in which he is trying to energize his nationalist voter base.

Erdogan’s resistance prompted Finland to hint for the first time on Tuesday that it may try to join on its own due to Stockholm’s diplomatic problems with Ankara.

“We have to assess the situation, if something has happened that in the longer term would prevent Sweden from moving forward,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Yle TV.

– ‘Definitely prohibited’ –

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said he was “in touch with Finland to find out what this really means”.

Haavisto later clarified his remarks, saying he did not want to “speculate” on Finland’s membership alone “because the two countries seem to be making progress”, and stressing their commitment to a joint bid.

But “of course, somewhere in the back of our minds we are thinking of different worlds where certain countries would be permanently excluded from membership,” he said.

Sweden’s leaders strongly condemned the Quran burning but defended their country’s broad definition of free speech.

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