HELSINKI, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Finland’s foreign minister said on Tuesday a time-out of a few weeks was needed in Finland and Sweden’s talks with Turkey on their application to join the NATO military alliance.
Turkey’s president said on Monday that Sweden should not expect his country’s support after a protest near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm at the weekend, which included the burning of a copy of the Koran.
“A time-out is needed before we return to the three-way talks and see where we are when the dust has settled after the current situation, so no conclusions should be drawn yet,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“I think there will be a break for a couple of weeks.”
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after Russia invaded of Ukraine, and now need the backing of all current NATO states to advance their application.
Initially hoping for swift approval last year, Haavisto now believes Ankara is unlikely to decide on whether to accept the Finnish and Swedish applications until after the Turkish elections due in mid-May.
The next window of opportunity for membership approval is thus likely to be between then and a NATO summit in Vilnius on July 11-12, Haavisto told a news conference.
Turkey has said Sweden in particular must take a clearer stance against what Ankara sees as terrorists: mainly Kurdish militants, and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday announced that presidential and parliamentary elections would be brought forward a month to May 14.
Haavisto said he had spoken on Monday with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“Of course they feel the pressure from the upcoming elections in mid-May and because of that the discussion understandably has become heated in many ways in Turkey,” Haavisto said.
Haavisto earlier told the broadcaster Yle that Finland should “assess the situation” if Sweden were to be permanently blocked from NATO entry, while adding it was too early to decide what this might mean.
Finland and Sweden have said they plan to join the alliance simultaneously and Haavisto told Reuters he saw no reason to consider whether Finland might go ahead alone.
“We are in agreement that both countries’ processes will continue as planned,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said after speaking with Haavisto on Tuesday.
Reporting by Essi Lehto in Helsinki, additional reporting by Simon Johnson in Stockholm; editing by Kevin Liffey and Jason Neely
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