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Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Stockholm was in contact

Finland’s foreign minister suggested Tuesday that his country might consider joining NATO without neighboring Sweden if Turkey continues to block their joint bid to enter the military alliance.

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto later backpedaled, but his comments were the first time a leading government official in either Nordic country appeared to raise doubts about becoming NATO members together at a time when the alliance is seeking to present a united front in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

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Sweden and Finland rushed to apply for NATO membership following Moscow’s invasion, abandoning their long-standing non-alignment policy. Their accession needs the approval of all existing NATO members, including Turkey, which has so far blocked the expansion, saying Sweden in particular needs to crack down on exiled Kurdish militants and their sympathizers.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sweden again not to expect support for its application following weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and pro-Kurdish groups.

Haavisto later told reporters in parliament that his comment was “imprecise” and that Finland’s ambition to enter NATO jointly with Sweden remained unchanged.

He said he had spoken with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who had stressed to Haavisto that the military bloc would like to see the two nations join simultaneously.

“But of course there have been raised concerns within NATO on how the [recent] incidents in Sweden will affect the schedule,” Haavisto said.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who visited Ukraine on Tuesday, weighed in on the NATO discussion, saying that “we have to take it calmly.” During a joint news conference in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Niinisto said that “undoubtedly, it seems to be the case that we have to wait for the elections in Turkey to take place” in May before major progress for Finland and Sweden’s joint NATO bid.

On Sunday, Erdogan announced that Turkey’s parliamentary and presidential elections would be held May 14, a month earlier than scheduled. Apart from Turkey, Hungary has yet to ratify NATO membership by Finland and Sweden. The other 28 NATO members have already done so.

Until now, Sweden and Finland had been committed to joining the alliance together.

“This is the first crack in the so far rather impressive unity between Sweden and Finland,” said Paul Levin, director of the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University. “Finland is currently somewhat of an innocent victim of the continued provocations by Swedish groups critical of NATO accession, protected by the very liberal Swedish freedom of speech laws. If Turkey persists in blocking accession, I suspect that Finland will at some point have to go it alone.”

Matti Pesu, a leading researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, said that Haavisto’s comment “was the first public signal that there is a Plan B if the Swedish NATO membership bid freezes for a longer time.”

He stressed that Finland “nevertheless continues to place an absolute emphasis on a concurrent entry into the alliance with Sweden.”

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“There are profound rationales for continuing the NATO journey together with Sweden,” Pesu said. “Having Sweden as a fellow NATO ally is a vital security interest for Finland. Finland should consider other alternatives only if there was a serious possibility of a significant delay in Sweden’s NATO bid and only if NATO allies welcomed Finland’s entry without Sweden.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Stockholm was in contact with Finland to find out what is really meant.” In a statement to the Associated Press, he said Sweden respects the “agreement between Sweden, Finland and Turkey regarding our NATO membership.”

In a memorandum of understanding signed by the three countries at a NATO summit last year, Sweden and Finland committed not to support Kurdish militant groups and to lift arms embargoes on Turkey imposed after its incursion into northern Syria in 2019.

Pro-Kurdish and anti-Turkish demonstrations in Stockholm have complicated the process. On Saturday, a far-right activist from Denmark staged a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm, where he burned the Quran, Islam’s holy book. A separate pro-Kurdish demonstration was held later Saturday in the Swedish capital.

An Israeli group raising funds for Jewish extremists convicted of some of the country’s most notorious hate crimes is collecting tax-exempt donations from Americans, according to findings by the Associated Press and the Israeli investigative platform Shomrim.

The records in the case suggest that Israel’s far right is gaining a new foothold in the U.S.

The amount of money raised through a U.S. nonprofit is not known. But the AP and Shomrim have documented the money trail from New Jersey to imprisoned Israeli radicals who include Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin and people convicted in deadly attacks on Palestinians.

This overseas fundraising arrangement has made it easier for the Israeli group, Shlom Asiraich, to collect money from Americans, who can make their contributions through the U.S. nonprofit with a credit card and claim a tax deduction.

Many Israeli causes and groups, including hospitals, universities and charities, raise money through U.S.-based arms. But having the strategy adopted by a group assisting Jewish radicals raises legal and moral questions.

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