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Hungary parliament speaker sees 'no urgency' in voting on Sweden's NATO accession

Hungarian Parliament Speaker Laszlo Kover take part in ceremony of unveiling the bust of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski in Budapest

By Anita Komuves and Gergely Szakacs

BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Hungary's parliamentary speaker said on Thursday there was no urgency in approving Sweden's NATO membership bid after ratification by Turkey left only Budapest holding up the lengthy accession process.

Turkey's general assembly, where President Tayyip Erdogan's ruling alliance holds a majority, voted 287-55 to approve the application that Sweden first made in 2022 to bolster its security in response to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Sweden's accession requires the formal approval of all 31 member states including Hungary, but winning Turkey's backing was widely considered the biggest remaining hurdle to overcome.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite Moscow's war in Ukraine, said on Wednesday he would urge lawmakers to approve Sweden's accession at the first possible opportunity.

But parliamentary speaker Laszlo Kover told news website index.hu: "I do not feel any particular urgency. Moreover, I do not think there is an extraordinary situation."

The Hungarian parliament is not currently in session. The opposition Socialist party said this week it would call for an extraordinary session to approve Sweden's NATO entry bid, stranded in the Hungarian legislature since mid-2022 despite repeated pledges by Orban to support it.

Orban has a commanding majority in parliament which he has often used to ram through legislation, in some cases overnight, with ruling party lawmakers rubber-stamping policy changes.

Kover, a founding member of Orban's ruling Fidesz, said he had no doubt one of Hungary's opposition parties would call for an extraordinary session, but that "this will likely fail."

Kover added that he personally did not support Sweden's NATO membership.

FIGHTER JETS

Despite Orban holding an iron grip on Fidesz, government ministers have repeatedly blamed the delays on grievances about Sweden's bid among ruling party lawmakers, hardly any of whom have ever rebelled against Orban.

"I assume that the Hungarian side is aware of the promises made to the outside world. That you should not be the last to ratify Sweden," Swedish daily Aftonbladet quoted Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom as saying.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged Orban on Wednesday to ratify Sweden's NATO accession.

The U.S. ambassador to Turkey said on Wednesday he anticipated that Erdogan would sign off on Sweden's NATO membership within days, triggering rapid steps towards the U.S. Congress endorsing a sale of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara.

"While Hungary has put nothing openly on the table other than a vague discontent with Sweden's 'attitude,' fighter jets could be a negotiation card here as well," Anna Wieslander, director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council, wrote on Wednesday.

"Hungary leases Swedish JAS Gripen (fighter jets), a contract which is up for extension and possible expansion."

A Hungarian government spokesman did not immediately respond to emailed questions for comment about fighter jets.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Anita Komuves, Editing by Timothy Heritage)