Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Sweden that it should not expect his backing to join NATO following the burning of the Quran outside Ankara’s embassy in Stockholm during a protest.
“Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy [in Stockholm] can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership,” Erdogan said on Monday, in his first official response to the act by a far-right politician during a protest on the weekend that was approved by the Swedish police.
Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO members not to have ratified the Nordic neighbours’ historic decision to break their tradition of military non-alignment in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has promised that his parliament would approve the two bids next month.
But Erdogan has dug in his heels heading into a close election in which he is trying to energise his nationalist electoral base.
“If you do not show respect to the religious beliefs of the Republic of Turkiye or Muslims, you will not receive any support for NATO [membership] from us,” he said, calling the Quran burning an attack on 85 million Turkish citizens.
Sweden reacted with extreme caution to Erdogan’s remarks.
“I cannot comment on the statement tonight. First, I want to understand exactly what was said,” Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Sweden’s TT News Agency.
The Quran burning was carried out by Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line. Paludan, who also has Swedish citizenship, has held a number of demonstrations in the past where he has burned the Quran.
Several Arab countries including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait denounced the incident.
Swedish leaders roundly condemned Paludan’s actions but defended their country’s broad definition of free speech.
“I want to express my sympathy for all Muslims who are offended by what has happened in Stockholm today,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson tweeted on Saturday.
Erdogan has already set out a series of tough conditions that include a demand for Sweden to extradite dozens of mostly Kurdish suspects that Ankara either accuses of “terrorism” or of involvement in a failed 2016 coup.
Sweden’s courtship of Turkey appeared to be making headway with a flurry of visits by top ministers to Ankara.
Stockholm has also enacted a constitutional amendment that will make it possible to pass tougher anti-terror laws demanded by Ankara.
But things turned sour when a small Kurdish group hung an effigy of Erdogan outside Stockholm’s city hall earlier this month.
Turkey summoned the Swedish ambassador and revoked an invitation for its parliament speaker to visit Ankara.
The decision by Swedish police to approve Paludan’s protests drew a similar response.
Turkey summoned Stockholm’s ambassador for another dressing down and cancelled a planned visit by Sweden’s defence minister.