(L-R) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Sweden s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom and Finland s Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto prior to the start of a meeting of the North Atlantic Council (NAC) in the framework of a NATO Foreign Ministers session, with invitees from Finland and Sweden, in Bucharest, Romania.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom acknowledged in an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen that Turkish anger over recent demonstrations and the burning of the Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm had complicated Sweden's NATO accession.
To admit new countries, NATO requires unanimous approval from its existing members, of which Turkey is one. Despite this, the Swedish government is hopeful of joining NATO this summer, Billstrom said.
``It goes without saying that we're looking toward the (NATO) summit in Vilnius,'' Lithuania's capital, in July, Billstrom told Expressen when asked of the timetable for Sweden's possible accession.
Hungary and Turkey are the only countries in the 30-member Western military alliance that haven't signed off on Finland's and Sweden's applications.
While Hungary has pledged to do so in February, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that a planned meeting in Brussels to discuss Sweden and Finland's NATO membership was postponed.
Such a meeting would have been ``meaningless'' following the events of last weekend in Stockholm, Cavusoglu said. They included protests by pro-Kurdish groups and the burning of Islam's holy book outside the Turkish Embassy by a far right Danish politician, Rasmus Paludan.
Expressen quoted Billstrom on Saturday as saying that the work to get Sweden and Finland into NATO was not on hold.
``The NATO process has not paused. The (Swedish) government continues to implement the memorandum that exists between Sweden, Finland and Turkey. But it is up to Turkey to decide when they will ratify,'' he said.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto echoed his Swedish counterpart and said the two countries planned to continue making a joint journey toward NATO.
``In my view, the road to NATO hasn't closed for either country,'' Haavisto said in an interview with Finnish public broadcaster YLE.
He said that Ankara's announcement to defer trilateral talks with Finland, Sweden and Turkey for now ``represents an extension of time from the Turkish side, and that the matter can be revisited after the Turkish elections'' set for May 14.
Haavisto said he was hopeful that time frame would allow for Finland and Sweden's membership to be finalized at the July 11-12 NATO summit in Lithuania.