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French foreign minister hopes Sweden, Finland join NATO soon

By LIUDAS DAPKUS, Associated Press
Published: March 30, 2023, 8:06am

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — France’s top diplomat said Thursday that she hoped the NATO applications of Sweden and Finland would be “ratified quickly,” as the Turkish parliament was expected to vote soon on whether Finland should join the 30-member alliance.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna referred to an upcoming NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital in July when she said that “we hope this summit will be a success and that there will be 32 countries at the Vilnius summit.”

“The applications of Sweden and Finland should be ratified quickly,” she told a news conference.

Both Sweden and neighboring Finland applied to join NATO in May 2022, abandoning decades of nonalignment in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. NATO requires the unanimous approval of its members to take in new countries.

On Monday, Hungarian lawmakers ratified Finland’s request to join NATO. However, the approval of Sweden’s bid has stalled because of opposition from Turkey and Hungary.

The Turkish government has accused Sweden of being too soft on groups that it deems to be terror organizations. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Ankara needs further assurances before it will give its final approval.

Members of Hungary’s governing party said they would wait for the government in Stockholm to clear up lingering disagreements before scheduling a vote in parliament. The government in Budapest alleges that some Swedish politicians have made derisive statements about the condition of Hungary’s democracy and played an active role in ensuring that billions in European Union funds were frozen over alleged rule-of-law and democracy violations.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said that “we see no reason why we should not be ratified. Those reasons have nothing to do with the Swedish NATO application. It is something completely different, it is about what views the EU has on Hungary,” according to Swedish news agency TT.

In Vilnius, Colonna said that Russia should reconsider a recently announced plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which has close military ties with Russia and was a staging ground for Moscow’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine last year.

“France condemns Russia’s plans as they are related to the destabilization of Europe. We want this decision to be reconsidered, and it would be very good if (Russian President) Vladimir Putin revoked that decision,” Colonna told reporters.

The move by Russia to station tactical atomic weapons in Belarus came in response to the West’s increasing military support for Ukraine. Putin announced the plan in a television interview that aired Saturday, saying it was triggered by a U.K. decision this past week to provide Ukraine with armor-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.

Colonna was in Vilnius to meet with Lithuanian counterpart Gabrielius Landsbergis to discuss the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius on July 11-12. She also was scheduled to meet with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte and visit French troops currently deployed in the Baltic country as part of NATO’s air policing mission.

—— Associated Press Writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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