ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkey could greenlight Finland’s membership in NATO before that of Sweden, if the military alliance and both Nordic countries agree to it, the Turkish foreign minister said Monday.
But Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haaivisto poured cold water on that suggestion, saying it was important that Finland and Sweden join NATO at the same time.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu defined Finland’s application as “less problematic” than that of Sweden. Turkey accuses Stockholm of failing to take concrete steps to crackdown on groups that Ankara considers to be terrorists. More recently, has been incensed by Quran-burning protests that were staged outside the Turkish embassies in Stockholm and Copenhagen by an anti-Islam activist who holds Swedish and Danish citizenship.
“In my opinion it t would be fair to differentiate between the problematic country and the less problematic country,” Cavusoglu told journalists during a joint news conference with his visiting Portuguese counterpart. “We believe that if NATO and these countries take such a decision, we can evaluate (Finland’s bid) separately."
Sweden and Finland applied jointly to become members of the military alliance, dropping their longstanding military nonalignment following Russia’s war on Ukraine.
NATO requires unanimous approval to admit new members. Turkey and Hungary have been delaying the ratification process of the Swedish and Finnish bids in its parliament.
In Helsinki, Haaivisto said his country's ”strong desire...has been, and still is, to join NATO together with Sweden.”
“We have actually underlined to all our future NATO partners, including Hungary and Turkey, that Finnish and Swedish security goes together,” the Finnish minister said, adding that the two countries would be able to join before a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania in July.
"I think it will be an important milestone, but we cannot, of course, decide on the behalf of Turkey or on behalf of Hungary about their timetables. We are in their hands,” he said.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said on Twitter Monday that he discussed “the current situation” with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a telephone call.
Turkey has accused the government in Stockholm of being too lenient toward groups it deems as terror organizations or existential threats, including Kurdish groups.
“Some steps were taken in Sweden, such as constitutional amendments and legal amendments,” Cavusoglu said. “Unfortunately, there have been steps back, due to the provocations of groups that want to prevent Sweden from joining NATO.”
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also suggested that Ankara might sign off on Finland’s application in a “shock” to Sweden.
He said Turkey had provided a list of 120 people it wants extradited from Sweden, a demand that was part of a memorandum signed in June that averted Turkey’s veto of the Nordic nations’ joint application.
Turkey is demanding the extradition of alleged PKK militants as well as some followers of Fethullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric accused of the 2016 attempted coup.
Following last week’s protests, Erdogan warned Sweden not to expect support for its membership bid. Turkey also indefinitely postponed a key meeting in Brussels that would have discussed membership for Sweden and Finland.
Sweden’s chief negotiator Oscar Stenström told Swedish Radio early Sunday that the three-way talks have been suspended to avoid worsening the situation.
Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen contributed from Copenhagen, Denmark.