NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg hinted on Tuesday that Sweden and Finland could join the alliance separately even though the Nordic countries have said they would only become members together.
“So the main question is not whether Finland and Sweden are ratified together. The main question is that they are both ratified as full members as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said ahead of a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels.
Stoltenberg’s comments came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he could approve Finland’s membership without Sweden. He previously said Sweden wouldn’t be receiving support from Turkey to join the alliance after a Quran-burning protest was held in front of the Turkish embassy in Sweden.
Turkey has held up Sweden and Finland’s memberships over their alleged support for the PKK, a Kurdish militant group. Ankara is seeking the extradition of suspected PKK members and other people allegedly involved in a 2016 coup attempt. The majority of the extraditions Turkey is seeking are people in Sweden.
For their part, Finland has responded to Erdogan’s comments by insisting they are still linking their NATO membership with Sweden. Stoltenberg said he was “confident that both will be full members, and are working hard to get both ratified as soon as possible.”
But the issue of Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership is an even lower priority than it was before for Erdogan as Turkey is dealing with the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that killed at least 35,418 people in Turkey and more than 5,800 in Syria.