Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signaled Monday that his country is not ready to ratify Sweden’s membership in NATO, saying Stockholm had to work harder on the “homework” it needs to complete.
Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, Erdogan also renewed his condemnation of a Quran-burning protest that took place in Sweden last week, describing the action as a hate crime against Muslims.
“We have made it clear that the determined fight against terrorist organizations and Islamophobia are our red line,” Erdogan said. “Everyone must accept that Turkey’s friendship cannot be won by supporting terrorism or by making space for terrorists.”
Turkey has delayed giving its final approval to Sweden’s membership in the military alliance, accusing the country of being too lenient toward anti-Islamic demonstrations and groups that Ankara regards as security threats. These include militant Kurdish groups that have waged a deadly, decades-long insurgency in Turkey.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has waged a 38-year insurgency against Turkey that has left tens of thousands dead. It is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S and the European Union.
NATO wants to bring Sweden into the fold by the time NATO leaders meet in Lithuania on July 11-12 but Erdogan said Stockholm still had obligations to fulfill. NATO requires the unanimous approval of all existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary are the only countries that have not yet ratified Sweden’s bid.
“Instead of wasting time with distraction tactics, we believe that keeping to the promises will be a more rational, more beneficial method,” Erdogan said. “We advise them to scrutinize themselves and do their homework better.”
He was referring to a memorandum that Sweden and Finland signed with Turkey last year under which they agreed to address Ankara’s concerns. Fighting Islamophobia was not included in the memorandum.
Last week, Swedish police allowed a protest outside a mosque in central Stockholm citing freedom of speech after a court overturned a ban on a similar Quran-burning.
“The vile attack on our holy book, the Holy Quran, in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, enraged us all,” Erdogan 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.”
Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, fearing they might be targeted by Moscow after Russia invaded Ukraine last year. Finland joined the alliance earlier this year after Turkey’s parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.
Sweden changed its anti-terror legislation since applying for NATO membership, but Turkey argues supporters of militant groups can freely organize demonstrations, recruit and procure financial resources in the country.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last week called a meeting of senior officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland for July 6 to try to overcome Turkish objections to Sweden joining the military alliance.