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Head of NATO meets Macron as Sweden still blocked from joining

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday he has called a meeting of senior officials from Turkey, Sweden and Finland for July 6th

The Western military alliance wants to overcome Turkey’s and Hungary’s objections to Sweden joining the military alliance.

Before meeting Stoltenberg on Wednesday French President Emmanuel Macron again called on Turkey and Hungary to quickly approve Sweden’s NATO accession.

“It’s now time … to allow Sweden to attend the Vilnius summit as an ally,” Macron said in a joint declaration with Stoltenberg. “Now, more than ever is the time to make decisions that will ensure the unity and stability of the continent.”

Hungarian lawmakers have said a long-delayed vote in parliament on ratifying Sweden’s NATO membership bid would not happen until the autumn legislative session. That would almost certainly mean it won’t get the green light in time for a major July 11-12 summit.

Sweden applied to join NATO last year after Russia invaded Ukraine amid widespread concern in Europe that President Vladimir Putin might broaden the war. The Nordic country has changed its anti-terror laws and lifted an arms embargo on Turkey to satisfy its demands.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement posted on his social media account that he spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier on Wednesday by phone and again raised his concerns over Sweden’s NATO membership.

“President Erdogan stated that while taking steps in the right direction, especially the change in Sweden’s anti-terror legislation, supporters of the PKK/PYD/YPG in Sweden continue to freely organise demonstrations praising terrorism, recruiting people and providing financial resources to terrorist organisations, and that this situation is unacceptable for Turkey.”

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has waged a 38-year insurgency against Turkey that has left tens of thousands dead. It is designated a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union.

Turkey’s government accuses Sweden of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara says pose a security threat, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.

Sweden has a Kurdish diaspora of around 100,000 people.

Calling the July 6 pre-summit meeting had represented a last-ditch effort by Stoltenberg to bring the Nordic country into NATO’s ranks at the summit. That would be a highly symbolic moment and another indication of how Russia’s war in Ukraine is driving countries to join the Western alliance.

“The time is now to welcome Sweden as a full member of NATO,” Stoltenberg told reporters. Foreign ministers, intelligence chiefs and security advisers from Turkey, Sweden and Finland, which joined NATO in April, will be taking part in the talks in Brussels.

NATO requires the unanimous approval of all members to expand.

Fearing they might be targeted by Moscow after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella.

Hungary has never clearly stated publicly what its concerns are about Sweden’s possible membership. NATO officials expect that it will follow suit once Turkey lifts its objections.

Also on Wednesday, a man of Iraqi origin burnt a Koran in front of Stockholm’s Great Mosque as Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al Adha.

He was given permission by police to protest but afterwards, they charged him with agitation against an ethnic or national group.

Turkey called the event “vile” and said Swedish authorities are complicit in Islamophobia.

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