Thursday, January 15, 2015

Israel says Swedish FM not welcome

Margot Wallström

The Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström

Israel said Thursday that Sweden's foreign minister was not welcome for an official visit in the country, with relations strained over Stockholm's recognition of Palestine.

The minister, Margot Wallstroem, last week postponed a trip to Israel indefinitely, with Israeli media reports suggesting that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not want to meet her.

Sweden officially recognised the state of Palestine in October, becoming the first western EU member to do so. This decision infuriated Israel, which temporarily recalled its ambassador to Stockholm.

Sweden's decision in October to recognise the state of Palestine -- the first major EU nation to do so -- infuriated Israel, which temporarily recalled its ambassador to Stockholm.

"Do not wait to travel to Israel until the Swedish foreign minister comes here, because that could take a long time," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told public broadcaster Swedish Radio.

"The Swedish foreign minister would not have been given any official meetings in Israel if she had travelled here. What Sweden did was an utterly unfriendly action," Nahshon added.

Wallstroem considered making the trip without official meetings but would have been without a security detail during the commemoration of Swedish Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg and other events, the radio said, without giving sources.

"It is basically an insult," Per Joensson, an editor with the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, told AFP.

"That is not a way to treat a sovereign foreign minister, unless you really want to punish her."

Despite the furore, Sweden said Wallstroem would visit Israel after the March 17 election there.

"It's in everybody's interest to have good diplomatic ties and we respect that there is an election campaign in Israel now and that there is a heightened debate," foreign ministry spokeswoman Annika Soeder told Swedish Radio.

According to the Palestinian Authority, around 135 countries have recognised the state of Palestine including several that are now EU members.