Jens Stoltenberg calls on Ankara not to block Sweden's NATO membership

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By Euronews  with AFP
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg   -   Copyright  AFP

The Secretary General of NATO on Monday castigated the attitude of the Turkish President, who threatens to block Sweden's NATO membership after an extremist burned a copy of the Koran on Saturday in Stockholm.

In an interview on German television Die Welt, transcribed in a German press release by the channel, Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg condemned Recep Tayyip Erdogan's position on Sweden.

“Freedom of expression, freedom of opinion is a precious commodity, in Sweden and in all other NATO countries. And that is why these inappropriate acts are not automatically illegal,” he said. 

Swedish-Danish right-wing extremist Rasmus Paludan burned a copy of the Koran on Saturday afternoon in an act aimed at denouncing the negotiations Swedish with Ankara on NATO.

"The Swedish government has condemned (this demonstration) in very clear terms", recalled Mr. Stoltenberg in his interview with die Welt.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted strongly, declaring that Sweden, a candidate for NATO membership, could no longer count on the "support" of Ankara after this burning.

Stoltenberg claimed to be "absolutely against this kind of insults towards other people", and "to be absolutely against this behavior that we have seen in the streets of Stockholm".

Turkey has been blocking Sweden's - and Finland's - entry into NATO since May, accusing them of harboring Kurdish militants and sympathizers whom it calls "terrorists", in particular those of the PKK and its allies in northern Syria and Iraq.

For Ankara, any possible progress depends on Swedish moves to extradite people accused of terrorism by Turkey or of taking part in the 2016 coup attempt against Mr Erdogan.

Stoltenberg, despite this context, felt that Turkey had so far been quite cooperative in the debate on NATO membership.

The ratification of the accession protocols must now not fail in the final hurdles. 

"I am in close contact with Finland and Sweden, and of course also with our ally Turkey," he added.

According to him, 28 of the 30 NATO countries have already given their consent in their national parliaments.

 "And of course I also ask the remaining allies - Hungary and Turkey - to speed up these procedures in their parliaments," he concluded.