Swedish PM: Finland likely to join NATO before Sweden

Swedish PM: Finland likely to join NATO before Sweden
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Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said that Sweden will join military alliance at a later date, if Turkey continues to block accession

Turkey's reluctance to approve Sweden's NATO candidacy is hampering the chances of Stockholm and Helsinki joining the military alliance together, the Swedish prime minister said on Tuesday, but insisted that Swedish membership is only a matter of time.

Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last year but faced objections from Turkey, which claims the two countries harbor members of groups it considers terrorist. The countries resumed talks on the process last week in Brussels.

Ankara has made it clear that it has greater objections to Sweden's accession than Finland's, and Kristersson said that Turkey's position on this remains, which means that the two Nordic countries may not join together as they would like.

"What we have noticed in recent weeks is that the likelihood of this happening at different times has increased," Kristersson told a news conference in Stockholm before leaving for a visit to Germany.

"At the end of the day, it is not a matter of whether Sweden becomes a member of NATO, but when."

At the meeting in Brussels last week, Turkey acknowledged that Sweden and Finland have taken concrete steps to address Ankara's concerns, and the three countries agreed to hold further meetings as part of the NATO process.

In January, Turkey suspended talks initiated under an agreement reached in Madrid last year to facilitate Finland and Sweden's accession process after a far-right politician in Stockholm burned a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran.

Sweden has said it has fulfilled its part of the Madrid Memorandum. As part of its efforts to reassure Turkey that it takes its fears of militant forces seriously, the Swedish parliament will pass a new anti-terrorism law.

Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO countries that have not yet ratified the Nordic countries' accession, and Kristersson said other members of the alliance are putting pressure on Ankara to speed up ratification.