NATO chief says “time is now” for Turkey to ratify Finland and Sweden memberships
ANKARA (Reuters) -NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday the "time is now" for Turkey to ratify applications by Finland and Sweden to join the defence alliance.
Stoltenberg was speaking at a joint news conference in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu after German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock this week said she expects all NATO members to ratify the bids "without further delay".
Finland and Sweden applied to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February last year and their membership bids have been ratified by all allies except Hungary and Turkey.
Turkey is widely seen as the main hold-up, with President Tayyip Erdogan indicating his country could ratify Finland's application while not going ahead with Sweden's.
Turkey says Sweden harbors members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is seen as a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and others.
Last month Turkey suspended talks with Sweden and Finland on their applications after a protest during which Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line, burned a copy of the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
Stoltenberg described Koran-burning protest as "a disgraceful act" and said the Swedish government had demonstrated a strong position against the protest which should be praised.
"For me, this just demonstrates that Sweden and Finland understand and are implementing policies which recognize the concerns that Turkey expressed. And this is why I think that time has come to ratify," he said.
Cavusoglu repeated Turkey's position that it could evaluate Finland and Sweden's bids to join NATO separately.
While conceding that Sweden had changed its legislation on terrorism in line with Turkey's demands, Cavusoglu said the changes should be fully implemented.
Stoltenberg, who later met with Erdogan in Ankara before departing for southern Turkey to visit earthquake-hit regions, said that the fight against terrorism would be high on the agenda at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July.
(Reporting by Huseyin Hayatsever; Writing by Ece Toksabay)