Finland’s top diplomat appeared to suggest on Tuesday that the country should consider joining NATO without Sweden after Turkey’s president cast serious doubts on expanding the military alliance.

“We still have to assess the situation if it turns out that Sweden’s application is stalled for a long time,” Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto told Finnish broadcaster YLE.

His comment came a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden not to expect support for its NATO bid following weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and groups. pro-Kurdish.

Sweden Grants Permission To Burn Quran In Front Of Turkish Embassy Amid NATO Offer
Swedish authorities gave permission for a series of protests in front of the Turkish embassy on January 21, 2023. Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images

It was the first time that a senior government official from either country appeared to raise doubts about the alliance coming together. Haavisto later backtracked, telling reporters in parliament that his comment the previous Tuesday had been «imprecise» and that Finland’s ambition to join NATO along with Sweden remained unchanged.

He said he had spoken with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who had insisted to Haavisto that the military bloc would like the two Nordic nations to join simultaneously.

«But of course there have been concerns within NATO about how the (recent) incidents in Sweden will affect the timetable,» Haavisto said.

Sweden’s and Finland’s offer to join NATO needs the approval of all existing NATO members, including Turkey, which has so far blocked expansion, saying Sweden in particular needs to crack down on exiled Kurdish militants and their supporters.

Until now, Sweden and Finland had pledged to join the alliance, but Haavisto’s comment to YLE raised concerns that Finland was considering proceeding without its Nordic neighbor.

“We are in contact with Finland to find out what it really means,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Sweden respects the agreement between Sweden, Finland and Turkey regarding our NATO membership. We have done it up to now and we will continue to do it”.

In a memorandum of understanding signed by the three countries at a NATO summit last year, Sweden and Finland pledged not to support Kurdish militant groups and to lift arms embargoes imposed on Turkey after its incursion into northern Syria. in 2019.

The pro-Kurdish and anti-Turkish demonstrations in Stockholm have complicated the process. On Saturday, a far-right activist from Denmark held a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, where he burned the Koran, Islam’s holy book. Later on Saturday a pro-Kurdish rally was held in the Swedish capital.

The Swedish government has tried to distance itself from the demonstrations, while insisting that such protests are permitted by the country’s freedom of expression.

Turkey responded angrily to the protests, canceling a planned visit to Ankara by the Swedish defense minister. Protests were held in front of the Swedish diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul.

Erdogan criticized the Swedish authorities for allowing the Koran burning demonstration.

“It is clear that those who allowed such vileness to occur in front of our embassy can no longer expect any charity from us regarding their application for NATO membership,” he said.

He also criticized the pro-Kurdish demonstration, accusing Sweden of allowing «terrorist organizations to run amok on its avenues and streets.» He said that if Sweden does not show respect for Turkey or the Muslims, then «they will not see any support from us on the NATO issue.»