Turkey has postponed planned talks with Sweden and Finland on their potential NATO bids following a Quran-burning protest in Sweden that took place in front of the Turkish embassy, the Turkish broadcaster TRT World reported Tuesday.
The report cited anonymous Turkish diplomatic sources who said the meeting was set to take place in Brussels next month but was postponed after a request from Ankara.
Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto signaled the talks would be delayed in comments on Tuesday, saying a “time-out” was necessary. “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,” he said. “I think there will be a break for a couple of weeks.”
On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey wouldn’t support Sweden’s NATO membership due to the protest, which was led by Rasmus Paludan, a Danish-Sweden politician who leads the Stram Kurs (Hard Line) Party in Denmark.
Sweden and Finland have said that their NATO memberships were linked and that one wouldn’t join the alliance without the other, but Haavisto suggested Helsinki could consider changing the policy. When asked if it still made sense for Finland to only proceed with Sweden, he said his country would have to “evaluate the situation if it turns out that Sweden’s application is stalling for a long time to come.”
Later in the day, Haavisto said it was “imprecise” that Finland has changed its policy of pursuing membership with Sweden. But his earlier comments were still significant as it marked the first time an official from either country suggested they might not become NATO members together.
Finland joining NATO would heighten tensions with Moscow significantly as it shares an over 800-mile border with Russia. The Russian military has plans to expand and reinforce its positions in western Russia and along the border if Finland ends up joining the alliance.