Finland, Sweden to help NATO in Iceland air policing

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 30, 2012 5:31 AM
Finland, Sweden to help NATO in Iceland air policing

By Terhi Kinnunen

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland and Sweden plan to join some NATO air surveillance operations over Iceland, their prime ministers said on Tuesday, in a sign the neutral Nordic states are ready for more cooperation with the Western alliance.

Iceland, a NATO member without its own air force, had asked Finland and Sweden to help the alliance monitor its airspace.

The move has been politically sensitive, particularly in Finland where many fear it would breach the country's neutrality and provoke neighboring Russia.

"Finland will inform Iceland's government that we are willing to participate in Iceland's air space surveillance in 2014, together with Sweden," Katainen said at a meeting of Nordic leaders in Helsinki.

His conservative National Coalition party favors closer cooperation with NATO to strengthen national security.

Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, at the same meeting, said his country was "positive" about Iceland's request. Swedish participation was a condition for Finland's decision to join the operations.

Finland's opposition politicians criticized the plan.

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"Participating in the air surveillance of a NATO member country absolutely does not concern non-allied Finland," Kimmo Tiilikainen of the Centre Party said in a statement.

A Finnish opinion survey on Tuesday showed 42 percent of Finns opposed participation and 22 percent supported it, while the rest did not have a stance.

(Additional reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Writing by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Alistair Lyon)