ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said for the first time Sunday that Ankara could accept Finland into NATO without its Nordic neighbor Sweden.
Erdogan’s comments during a televised meeting with younger voters came days after Ankara suspended NATO accession talks with the two countries.
Turkey and Hungary remain the only members of the 30-nation Western defense alliance to have failed to ratify the membership bids by Sweden and Finland.
The Hungarian parliament is expected to approve both bids in February.
But Erdogan has dug in his heels heading into a tightly contested May 14 presidential election in which he is trying to energize his conservative and nationalist base of support.
Erdogan’s main complaint has been with Sweden’s refusal to extradite dozens of suspects that Ankara links to outlawed Kurdish militants and a failed 2016 coup attempt.
He signaled on Sunday that he was willing to accept Finland into the US-led defense bloc on its own.
“If necessary, we can give a different response concerning Finland. Sweden will be shocked when we give a different response for Finland,” Erdogan said in televised remarks.
He repeated his demand for Sweden to hand over suspects sought by Ankara.
“If you absolutely want to join NATO, you will return these terrorists to us,” Erdogan said.
“You will send these terrorists to us so that you can join NATO.”