Finland and Sweden to continue their common path to NATO
Finland is sticking to its plan to join NATO at the same time as its Nordic neighbor Sweden and hopes to do so by July at the latest, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Monday.
Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year after Russia invaded Ukraine, but Turkey objected.
The three countries signed an agreement in Madrid on how to proceed, but last week Turkey suspended talks after protests in Stockholm that included the burning of a Koran.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signaled on Sunday that Ankara might agree to Finland joining NATO before Sweden, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made similar comments Monday.
Haavisto, however, said Finland would stick with Sweden, its closest military partner, during the accession process.
"Our strong desire is still to join together with Sweden NATO," Haavisto told a news conference in Helsinki.
"We have emphasized to all our future NATO partners, including Hungary and Turkey, that Finnish and Swedish security belong together," he said.
Of the 30 members of NATO, only Turkey and Hungary have yet to ratify the Nordic countries' application for membership.
Presidential and parliamentary elections will be held in Turkey in May, and many analysts believe it will be difficult to make progress before then.
However, Haavisto said he still hopes Finland and Sweden will become members of NATO in the coming months.
"I still see the NATO summit in Vilnius in July as an important milestone, where I hope both countries will be admitted as NATO members by then at the latest," Haavisto said.
Finland and Sweden had hoped for a quick accession process and were surprised by Turkey's objections.
Turkey in particular wants Sweden to take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
Sweden has said it takes Turkey's security concerns seriously and is implementing the three-way agreement signed last June, but Ankara says it is not doing enough.
That has led to speculation that Finland - which has a 1,300-km border with Russia - could proceed without Sweden.
Haavisto, however, said security guarantees from the United States, Britain and other members of NATO mean Finland can be patient.
"We appreciate these security guarantees very much, even though we understand that this is not the same as NATO Article 5, but it is very important for us," he said.
Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the founding document of NATO, commits all members to mutual defence and states that an attack on one member state is an attack on all.