BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Sweden’s government should “act differently” if it wants to clinch Turkish support for its bid to join NATO, Hungary’s foreign minister said Tuesday, adding that a recent Quran-burning protest outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm was “unacceptable.”
Peter Szijjarto made the remark at a news conference following talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Hungary’s capital Budapest. Both diplomats addressed the Jan. 21 anti-Turkish protest that increased tensions between Ankara and Stockholm as Sweden seeks Turkey’s approval to join the military alliance.
“As a Christian and as a Catholic, I must say that burning of a holy book of another religion is an unacceptable act,” Szijjarto said, and criticized a statement by Sweden’s prime minister that while the burning of the Quran was inappropriate and “deeply disrespectful,” it fell under Swedish freedom of speech protections.
“Stating that the burning of a sacred book is part of freedom of speech is just plain stupidity,” Szijjarto said, adding that “perhaps they (Sweden) should act differently than that” if they want to secure Ankara’s backing.
The meeting in Budapest came as Turkey and Hungary remain the only two NATO members that haven’t approved bids by Sweden and Finland to join the military alliance. The northern European neighbors — one of which, Finland, shares a border with Russia — dropped their long-standing military neutrality and sought NATO membership in response to Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
A unanimous vote of all 30 NATO members is necessary for admitting new countries.
Cavusoglu said Turkey shares Hungary’s wish for NATO enlargement, but that it was now “impossible for us to confirm (Sweden’s) accession” into the alliance. He called the Quran-burning protest a “provocation which will take us nowhere, it can only lead to chaos.”
Ankara has also said it’s displeased with Sweden’s efforts to crack down on groups that Turkey considers to be terrorist or pose a threat to the country, including Kurdish groups. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Sweden should not expect Turkey’s support in its membership bid.
Hungary’s government was expected to vote on accepting Sweden and Finland into NATO by the end of last year. The issue will be on the Hungarian parliament’s agenda during its first session of the year in February, Szijjarto said.
Szijjarto said Hungary has a “clear standpoint” on admitting Sweden and Finland into NATO, but would not attempt to influence Turkey either way.
“I never urge any other foreign governments to do things which are not of our concern,” Szijjarto said.
This story was first published on January 31, 2023. It was updated on February 1, 2023 to correct that while Finland has a border with Russia, Sweden does not.