U.S. says Finland, Sweden are ready to join NATO alliance

The State Department signaled support after Turkey condemned Stockholm protests that included the burning of a Koran.

By Reuters - January 23, 2023

The U.S. State Department on Monday said Finland and Sweden are ready to join the NATO alliance, after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Sweden should not expect Turkey’s support for its membership after a protest near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm at the weekend including the burning of a copy of the Koran.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act, adding that “something can be lawful but awful.”

Protests in Stockholm on Saturday against Turkey and against Sweden’s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have heightened tensions with Turkey, whose backing Sweden needs to gain entry to the military alliance.

The Koran-burning was carried out by Rasmus Paludan, leader of Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Paludan, who also has Swedish citizenship, has staged a number of demonstrations in the past where he burned the Koran.

Several Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait denounced the event. Turkey had already summoned Sweden’s ambassador and canceled a planned visit by the Swedish defense minister to Ankara.

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.

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