President Tayyip Erdogan stated on Monday that Sweden shouldn’t count on Turkey’s backing for its membership in NATO in light of the weekend demonstration that saw a copy of the Koran burned close to the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
Tensions with Turkey, whose support Sweden needs to join the military alliance, have increased as a result of protests held in Stockholm on Saturday against Turkey and against Sweden’s application to join NATO.
“Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership,” Erdogan said in a speech after a Cabinet meeting.
“If you love members of terrorist organizations and enemies of Islam so much and protect them, then we advise you to seek their support for your countries’ security,” he said.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom declined to immediately comment on Erdogan’s remarks, telling Reuters in a written statement he wanted to understand exactly what had been said.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but all 30 member states must approve their bids. Ankara has previously said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Finland and Sweden are ready to join the alliance, but declined to comment on whether Washington thought Erdogan’s comments meant a definitive shutting of the door to them.
“Ultimately, this is a decision and consensus that Finland and Sweden are going to have to reach with Turkey,” Price said.
Price told reporters that burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act, adding that the United States is cognizant that those who may be behind what took place in Sweden may be intentionally trying to weaken unity across the Atlantic and among Washington’s European allies.
“In my nation, we have a proverb that says something can be legal but terrible. In this instance, I believe what we’ve seen in relation to Sweden fits that description “said Price.
Rasmus Paludan, the head of the Danish far-right political group Hard Line, burned the Koran. In the past, Paludan, who is also a Swedish citizen, has burned the Koran during a number of protests.
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait were among the Arab nations to condemn the incident. Sweden’s ambassador to Turkey had already been summoned, and the Swedish defense minister’s trip to Ankara had been postponed.