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Erdoğan says Turkey may accept Finland into Nato without Sweden | Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said for the first time that Ankara could accept Finland into NATO without its Scandinavian neighbor Sweden.

Erdogan’s comments during a televised meeting with younger voters came days after Ankara suspended negotiations with the two countries to join NATO.

His decision jeopardized NATO’s hopes of expanding the bloc to 32 countries at a summit scheduled for July in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

Finland and Sweden have abandoned decades of military non-alignment and have applied to join a defense alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey and Hungary remain the only members that have not ratified two applications by a vote in parliament.

The Hungarian legislature is expected to approve both applications in February.

But Erdogan is heading for a heavily contested May 14 election in which he is trying to revitalize his conservative and nationalist base of support.

Erdogan’s main complaint relates to Sweden’s refusal to extradite dozens of suspects Ankara links to outlawed Kurdish militants and a failed 2016 coup attempt.

On Sunday, he made a clear distinction between the positions of Sweden and Finland over the past few months.

“If necessary, we can give a different answer for Finland. Sweden will be shocked when we give a different answer to Finland,” Erdogan said.

He also reiterated his demand that Sweden hand over the suspects wanted by Ankara.

“If you absolutely want to join NATO, you will return these terrorists to us,” Erdogan said.

Sweden has a larger Kurdish diaspora than Finland and more serious disagreements with Ankara.

Both countries tried to break Erdogan’s resistance during several months of delicate negotiations.

Sweden has approved a constitutional amendment that allows it to enact tougher anti-terrorism laws that Ankara is demanding.

And both countries lifted the ban on the sale of military equipment to Turkey, which they imposed after its military invasion of Syria in 2019.

But Ankara reacted with fury to the Swedish police’s decision to allow a protest in which a far-right extremist burned a copy of the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm earlier this month.

Ankara is also outraged by the decision of the Swedish prosecutor’s office not to press charges against a Kurdish support group that hung an effigy of Erdogan by the ankles outside the Stockholm City Court.

Swedish officials have harshly condemned the protests but defended their country’s widespread recognition of free speech.

The standoff between Ankara and Stockholm prompted Finnish officials last week to hint for the first time that they might be forced to seek NATO membership without Sweden.

The two countries sought to join the bloc together from the start.

“We have to assess the situation to see if something has happened that will prevent Sweden from moving forward in the long term,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said last Tuesday.

But Haavisto also stressed that joining together remains “the first option.”

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