Ankara, Feb 16 (EFE).- Finland’s and Sweden’s swift accession to Nato is more important than whether both nations join at the same time, secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, amid objections from Turkey over the Swedish bid to join the military alliance.
The two Nordic countries abandoned decades of military neutrality and applied for Nato membership last year in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“My position is that both can be ratified now,” Stoltenberg told reporters on Thursday during a press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, adding that “the main issue is not whether they are ratified together,” but “that Finland and Sweden are ratified as soon as possible.”
Stoltenberg was in Ankara to show his support and solidarity following the deadly earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria last week leaving over 36,000 dead.
The Nato leader said the earthquakes were “the deadliest natural disaster on Alliance territory since the foundation of Nato.”
Stoltenberg praised the response of Nato allies to the tragedy which has included financial aid, search and rescue teams, firefighters, medical personnel, seismic experts and medical evacuations using military aircraft.
“I also welcome the contributions of our invitees Finland and Sweden, showing solidarity in action,” Stoltenberg continued. “In particular, I thank Sweden for its initiative to hold an international donor conference in March.”
Turkey has refused to grant entry to Sweden for harboring militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist group by Ankara.
At Thursday’s press briefing, Stoltenberg said that both Sweden and Finland had taken steps to meet the demands raised by Turkey in July 2022 at Nato’s Madrid summit where the three countries penned a memorandum on how to proceed with the Nordic nations’ accession.
The three-way agreement included concessions to Turkey such as classifying the PKK as a terrorist group and processing extradition requests of alleged terrorists issued by Ankara.
The Nato chief said both countries had removed any restrictions on arms exports and strengthened their legislation on terrorism.
“Sweden is also amending their constitution and has stepped up the cooperation with Türkiye, also established a permanent mechanism to continue to work closely with Türkiye in the fight against terrorism,” he added.
Stoltenberg acknowledged Turkey’s “legitimate security concerns” saying that no other Nato nation had suffered more terrorist attacks.
Swedish accession talks hit a setback when the Turkish government canceled a recent meeting after a far-right politician burnt a copy of the Koran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm on January 21, which Stoltenberg said had “created strong reactions in Türkiye.
“And I understand and I share the pain because I personally regard the burning of the holy book as a disgraceful act,” he said, adding that “not all acts which are disgraceful or immoral or provocative are illegal. But it is important to have a strong position and that’s what we have seen clearly from the Swedish government.”
The secretary general insisted that “the time has come to ratify” Sweden and Finland’s entry but that this was a decision for the Turkish government and parliament to make.
Cavosuglu, however, insisted that Turkey would “evaluate Finland’s membership process separately,” adding that the issue would be high on the agenda at Stoltenberg’s meeting later on Thursday with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Cavosuglu acknowledged that both countries had taken steps in the right direction but said that Sweden had not “fully fulfilled all of its obligations,” as there were Kurdish groups still operating in the Scandinavian country.
Cavosuglu further denounced that the burning of the Koran was “a hate crime and against humanity” and that the act violated international law.
The Turkish foreign minister added that Turkey had not expressed any substantial concerns with Finland.