ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Swedish authorities’ failure to prevent Quran-burning protests in their country is raising security concerns and questions about Sweden’s credentials for possible NATO membership.
But Hakan Fidan said Turkey would still approve Sweden’s membership in the military alliance if Stockholm “completes its homework” and presses ahead with efforts to address Turkey’s concerns.
“The fact that the Swedish security system is incapable of preventing provocations and is presenting an image of a (country) that brings problems to NATO — instead of more power — is making us think in terms of the strategic and security aspects,” Fidan said at a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart.
The U.N. secretary general is hoping that the Security Council will vote later this month to keep a key border crossing from Turkey to Syria’s rebel-held northwest open for critical aid deliveries for a period of one year instead of six months.
Greece’s newly-appointed foreign minister says his country is ready to start talks with Turkey to resolve a long-standing dispute over maritime borders that has repeatedly brought the two neighbors to the brink of armed conflict.
Turkey’s president has signaled once again that his country is not ready to ratify Sweden’s membership in NATO.
Four men and a 14-year-old boy from the Sheikhi family set out for Europe. They wanted lives better than they had in their war-scarred town in northeast Syria.
“When it comes to Sweden’s membership in NATO, whether it will become a burden or a benefit has become more open to debate,” he said.
Sweden and Finland abandoned their decades-long neutrality and applied to join NATO last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey has been holding off ratifying Sweden’s membership in the alliance, accusing the Scandinavian country of being too soft toward groups that Ankara regards as threats to its security, including Kurdish militants and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.
Ankara has also been angered by a series of demonstrations in Sweden by supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, as well as Quran-burning protests, including one that took place last week that was condemned by Muslim countries.
The PKK has waged a 38-year insurgency against Turkey that has left tens of thousands dead. It is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S and the European Union.
NATO wants to bring Sweden into the fold by the time the alliance’s leaders meet in Lithuania on July 11 to 12, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has called a meeting of senior officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland for July 6 to try to overcome Turkish objections to Sweden’s membership.
NATO requires the unanimous approval of all existing members to expand. Turkey and Hungary are the only countries that have not yet ratified Sweden’s bid.
Sweden has changed its anti-terror legislation after applying for membership. Fidan, Turkey’s former intelligence chief who was appointed foreign minister last month, maintained that terror groups were able to continue to stage demonstrations, raise money and recruit members in Sweden.
”If Sweden continues with its efforts and does its homework, there are always alternatives, just as there was in the case of Finland,” Fidan said. He was referring to a memorandum that Sweden and Finland signed with Turkey last year under which they agreed to address Ankara’s concerns.
Finland was able to join the alliance earlier this year, after Turkey expressed satisfaction with its efforts to meet demands and the Turkish parliament ratified its membership.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis lamented last week’s Quran-burning protest outside a mosque in central Stockholm in an interview with the United Arab Emirates’ Al-Ittihad newspaper. Swedish police allowed the event to take place, citing freedom of speech, after a court overturned a ban on a similar Quran-burning.
“Any book considered sacred by its authors must be respected out of respect for its believers, and freedom of expression must never be used as an excuse to despise others, and to allow this, must be rejected and condemned,” the pope was quoted as saying.
In Sweden, a top bishop called the incident “an attack” on all believers.
”Freedom of speech is about standing up for things, but it’s not about being allowed to do it at any price,” Ake Bonnier, a bishop who is acting as a spokesperson for Sweden’s Lutheran Archbishop Martin Modeus, told Swedish broadcaster SVT on Monday.
The Jordanian foreign minister also called for mutual respect of religious values and for the prevention of such protests.
A spokesperson for the United Nations Human Rights Council said Tuesday that following a request by Pakistan, the council will discuss “the alarming rise” in acts of religious hatred such as the desecration of the Quran.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, issued a call Tuesday for a daylong protest to defend the sanctity of the Quran and condemn the desecration of Islam’s holy book in Sweden. In a statement, he urged people to join in the demonstration Friday, when a joint sitting of Pakistan’s parliament will be held to discuss the burning of the Quran.
Sharif said honoring the Quran is part of their faith, and “we are all united for it.”
Associated Press writers Frances D’Emilio in Rome, Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.