Sweden suffers setback in bid for NATO accession

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Photo taken on April 6, 2022 shows a sculpture and flags at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. [Photo/Xinhua]

Sweden suffered a major setback in its bid for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership as Türkiye, a NATO member, has said it will not support it.

At Ankara's request, a meeting between Türkiye, Sweden and Finland planned for February has been postponed indefinitely, Turkish TV channel TRT Haber reported on Tuesday, citing diplomatic sources.

Türkiye's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday warned Sweden that it should not expect Ankara's backing to join the NATO after a copy of the Quran was burned in a Stockholm protest.

"Those who allow such disgraceful acts in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm can't expect good news from us on NATO membership," Erdogan said, adding that no individual has the freedom to insult the faith of Muslims or other religions.

The burning of a copy of the Quran on Saturday by Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line, came at a time when Sweden, along with Finland, was seeking Türkiye's backing to join NATO.

The bid has been blocked by the Turkish government, which accuses Sweden and Finland of supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Syria's Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Türkiye considers terrorist groups.

Earlier this month, supporters of PKK and YPG hung Erdogan's effigy by the feet in Stockholm and shared its video footage on social media affiliated with the PKK, the semi-official Anadolu Agency reported.

Türkiye's Foreign Ministry later condemned this "heinous act" and summoned Sweden's ambassador to protest the "terror propaganda" against the Turkish president.

On Tuesday, Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said that his country might have to reconsider promoting a joint, simultaneous entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO if Sweden's application is delayed much longer.

Haavisto said that recent protests in Sweden had delayed the processing of the two countries' NATO applications until at least Türkiye's parliamentary and presidential elections in mid-May.

"Sweden's horror scenario will become a reality should Finland decide to go first into NATO. In that case, Sweden would be the only Nordic country that is not a member of NATO. This would leave Sweden in a situation where it has renounced non-alignment, while at the same time being without NATO's security guarantees," SVT's political commentator Mats Knutson said on Tuesday.

Sweden and Finland simultaneously submitted their formal requests to join NATO in May 2022. In June, Türkiye, Sweden and Finland reached a memorandum of understanding (MoU) before Ankara lifted its veto ahead of NATO's Madrid summit.

In the MoU, Finland and Sweden pledged to support Türkiye's fight against terrorism, agreeing to address Ankara's "pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects expeditiously and thoroughly."

The Turkish parliament has not ratified the Nordic countries' NATO bids yet, arguing that they have yet to meet Türkiye's request for extraditing anti-Turkish "terrorists," including members of PKK and YPG.

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