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‘Unclear whether Sweden’s NATO bid brings benefit or burden to alliance’


It is not clear from a strategic and security perspective whether Sweden’s membership into NATO would be beneficial to the alliance or be a burden, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Tuesday.

“Whether Sweden’s membership in NATO will be a burden or a benefit, in terms of a strategic and security assessment, is now more than ever open to debate. We once again strongly condemn the vile attack on the Quran in Stockholm and the condonation of this attack despite our warnings,” Fidan said at a press conference with his Jordanian counterpart in Ankara.

Swedish police allowed the burning of the Quran outside a mosque in central Stockholm, citing “freedom of speech” after a court overturned a ban on a similar Quran burning.

“Reactions came from various places worldwide to this hateful incident. We will continue to work for these reactions to become gradually more organized, qualified and result-oriented because this will neither be the first nor the last incident,” Fidan emphasized.

The top diplomat said that the Swedish security system is falling short of preventing provocations and showed it could cause problems for NATO.

He said he discussed the recent extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi.

The OIC issued a statement where the group expressed disappointment over the authorities allowing the burning of the Quran and urged member countries to make “collective efforts against vile acts” targeting the Quran and other symbols of Islam.

For his part, Safadi said that the act in Sweden showed an anti-Islam stance and could not be accepted or explained through freedom of speech.

“On the fight against terrorism, there are a range of decisions and legal practices taken by Sweden last month. We will see how these are applied in practice,” Fidan said.

Swedish lawmakers last month passed a bill tightening the country’s counterterrorism laws, in an attempt by Stockholm to address Türkiye’s security concerns about its NATO membership.

The revision includes a prison term of up to four years for individuals convicted of participating in an extremist organization in a way that is intended to promote, strengthen or support the group.

Fidan confirmed that a meeting would take place between Türkiye, Sweden and Finland before the NATO Vilnius summit.

He reiterated that Sweden must fulfill its obligations under the Madrid decisions.

“It is not possible for us to paint a positive picture in an atmosphere where terrorist organizations are hosted, where these groups easily organize all kinds of acts, demonstrations and protests, where they can gather money, where there is human trafficking with conflict zones and where people entering the country under the guise of refugees are not investigated,” he underlined.

Türkiye has delayed giving its final approval to Sweden’s membership in NATO, accusing the country of being too lenient toward anti-Islamic demonstrations as well as terrorist entities.

NATO wants to bring Sweden into the fold by the time NATO leaders meet in Lithuania on July 11-12, but Erdoğan said Stockholm still had obligations to fulfill. NATO requires the unanimous approval of all existing members to expand, and Türkiye and Hungary are the only countries that have not yet ratified Sweden’s bid.

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in May 2022. Finland has been a member of the alliance since April 2023.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday also spoke on the latest Islamophobic act in Sweden, renewing his condemnation of a Quran-burning that took place in Stockholm last week, describing the action as a hate crime against Muslims.

“The vile attack on our holy book, the Holy Quran, in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, enraged us all,” Erdoğan said. “This perverted disregard for the feelings of 2 billion Muslims cannot be compatible with the most basic human values, let alone freedom of thought,” he said following a Cabinet meeting.

“We have made it clear that the determined fight against terrorist organizations and Islamophobia are our red line,” Erdoğan said. “Everyone must accept that Türkiye’s friendship cannot be won by supporting terrorism or making space for terrorists.”

“Instead of wasting time with distraction tactics, we believe that keeping to the promises will be a more rational, more beneficial method,” Erdoğan said. “We advise them to scrutinize themselves and do their homework better.”

Damage to Sweden’s Image

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom, on the same day, said that incidents such as the Quran burning “could turn our country’s good image into a bad one.”

Speaking to local daily Sydsvenskan on Monday, Billstrom said the Swedish state struggles to save its reputation.

“Sweden’s good image will change in the long run if it continues to be portrayed as Islamophobic. It is difficult to predict what the consequences will be in the process of Sweden’s NATO membership approval. Defense is also important,” the foreign minister said, drawing attention to Türkiye’s reservations in ratifying Sweden’s accession to NATO.

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