FM Cohen visits Stockholm, hails ‘new page’ in Israel-Sweden ties

Sweden’s top diplomat calls Eli Cohen’s trip, the first by an Israeli foreign minister since 2001, ‘so long overdue’

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, left, meets his Swedish counterpart Tobias Billström  in Stockholm, May 15, 2023. (MAG/ Israel Embassy in Sweden)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, left, meets his Swedish counterpart Tobias Billström in Stockholm, May 15, 2023. (MAG/ Israel Embassy in Sweden)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Israel’s top diplomat on Monday paid a visit to Sweden, in a new sign of warming ties between the two nations.

Eli Cohen said his trip to Stockholm was the first visit by an Israeli foreign minister to Sweden in 22 years.

“We are opening a new page in relations between Israel and Sweden, after years in which Sweden took a critical line against Israel,” he said in the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry. He said his meeting with his Swedish counterpart, Tobias Billstrom, signaled a “change in direction” of ties.

According to the Israeli readout, along with the noticeable positive change in bilateral ties, other issues addressed during the meeting included Israel-EU relations, dealing with the Iran-backed terror and fighting antisemitism.

Billstrom called the meeting “very good and productive,” in a statement on Twitter. “The first one in 20 years, so long overdue,” he added.

“The purpose was to further strengthen the bilateral relations between Sweden and Israel and to discuss global and regional issues of mutual interest.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and his Swedish counterpart, Tobias Billstrom, hold a meeting in Stockholm on May 15, 2023. (Israeli Embassy in Sweden)

Sweden’s previous Social Democratic government had a rocky relationship with Israel, after recognizing a Palestinian state in 2014, a move that prompted Israel to temporarily recall its ambassador to Sweden. Two years later, Israel said Sweden’s foreign minister at the time was “not welcome,” after critical comments of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

But relations have begun to thaw. In October 2021, Sweden’s foreign minister at the time visited Israel in an attempt to mend ties.

Those relations are expected to improve further under Sweden’s new center-right government, which took office last October.

A number of Swedish political parties have called for moving the country’s embassy to Jerusalem, and its parliament unanimously passed a measure urging the government to brand the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.

Sweden holds the EU presidency and is actively working to join NATO. Israel sees an opportunity for its defense technology to play a key role in Sweden’s military build-up, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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