Turkey postponed three-way NATO talks between Ankara, Stockholm and Helsinki Tuesday in response to a Quran-burning protest that took place in Sweden on Saturday.
Turkey's public broadcaster TRT reported the news, citing Turkish Foreign Ministry sources. No date has been set for the meeting, which was set to be held in February in Brussels.
The move came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that Sweden had no longer Ankara’s support in its bid to join NATO in retaliation to Sweden's granting permission to a Quran-burning protest.
“Those who encourage or excuse this perversion have no doubt considered its consequences as well. ... Sorry, but you won’t get any support from us about NATO,” Erdogan told the cabinet members Monday in a rare outburst on foreign policy since he kicked off his election campaign for the polls expected to be held on May 14.
Far-right Danish-Swedish political leader Rasmus Paludan burned a copy of the Islamic holy book near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm on Saturday.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry “strongly condemned” the protest, lambasting it as “despicable” on Saturday. Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also said that Ankara canceled the Swedish defense minister's upcoming Turkey visit planned for this week.
"At this point, Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson's visit to Turkey on Jan. 27 is no longer important or meaningful. Therefore, we canceled it," he said.
As Turkey's grievances with Sweden grow, Ankara summoned the Swedish ambassador to the Turkish Foreign Ministry twice over the past two weeks over a series of protests against Turkey. Turkish officials told Swedish Ambassador Staffan Herrstrom last week that Stockholm granting permission for the protest was “unacceptable.”
Stockholm is seeking Ankara’s approval to become a NATO member. Finland and Sweden abandoned their historical neutrality policies and made their bid to join NATO in the face of the Russian Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Turkish officials previously signaled Turkey was ready to ratify Finland’s application.
Helsinki, which had previously announced in June that it would not join NATO without Sweden in solidarity with its western neighbor, hinted Tuesday that his country may join the alliance without Sweden.
Finland’s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavistohave said Monday that Helsinki would have to “evaluate the situation if it turns out that Sweden’s application is stalling for a long time to come.”
Ankara demands both Nordic countries extradite 130 people over their alleged ties with what it considers terrorist groups, the thorniest issue in the talks between Ankara and Stockholm. Turkey’s demands from Sweden also involve restrictions on the activities of groups and individuals that Ankara considers terrorists including an asset freeze.
The two countries were formally invited to the alliance in a June summit, pending ratification by each of the 30 NATO members. Turkey and Hungary are the sole holdouts. Budapest announced it would ratify the expansion soon, but Ankara demands that Stockholm fully address its security concerns before giving the nod.
With the postponement, the prospects of NATO expansion before Turkey's crucial parliamentary and presidential elections seem less likely than ever.