President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Turkey would move forward with ratifying Finland’s NATO application, paving the way for the country to join the military bloc ahead of Sweden.
The breakthrough came as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was in Ankara to meet with Erdogan and 10 months after both Finland and Swden applied to become NATO members in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, abandoning decades of nonalignment.
“When it comes to fulfilling its pledges in the trilateral memorandum of understanding, we have seen that Finland has taken authentic and concrete steps,” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara following his meeting with Niinisto.
With Erdogan’s agreement, Finland’s application can now go to the Turkish parliament, where the president’s party and its allies hold a majority. Ratification is expected before Turkey holds its presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14.
Erdogan suggested Wednesday that his country might take up Finland’s accession following Niinisto’s trip.
NATO requires the unanimous approval of its 30 existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary have failed so far to ratify the accession of the Nordic neighbors.
Turkey’s government accuses Sweden of being too soft on groups that it deems to be terror organizations, including Kurdish groups, and has said it has fewer problems with Finland.
“This sensitivity for our country’s security and, based on the progress that has been made in the protocol for Finland’s accession to NATO, we have decided to initiate the ratification process in our parliament,“ Erdogan said Friday.
Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed an agreement in June last year to resolve differences over the Nordic states’ membership.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is meeting his Finnish counterpart in Ankara on Friday, raising hopes that the talks will lead to Turkey’s approval of Finland’s NATO membership bid.
Despite the rain, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto and Erdogan reviewed military honor guard at the presidential palace in the Turkish capital’s Bestepe district.
The leaders’ talks will focus on Helsinki’s application to join the military alliance.
Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership in May last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, abandoning decades of nonalignment.
The expansion of the 30-nation bloc has been held up by Turkey and Hungary, the only two countries not to have yet ratified the Nordic states’ bids, which the parliaments of each NATO member must approve.
Erdogan has raised specific objections to the countries — especially Sweden — joining NATO. In June last year Turkey, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement designed to smooth the path for the Nordic accession.
The document included clauses addressing Ankara’s claims that Stockholm and Helsinki have been too soft on those it considers terrorists, particularly supporters of Kurdish militants who have waged a 39-year insurgency in Turkey and people Ankara associates with a 2016 coup attempt.
A series of separate demonstrations in Stockholm, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy, also angered Turkish officials.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and lawmakers have repeatedly promised to ratify the two country’s NATO membership applications. But the country’s parliament has repeatedly postponed a ratification vote and hasn’t given a firm date on when the vote will take place.
Erdogan on Wednesday suggested that his country may soon agree to Finland’s application to join NATO. Turkish officials previously said that Finland joining ahead of Sweden was a more likely outcome.
Asked by reporters if the Turkish parliament might ratify Finland’s membership after Niinisto’s visit, Erdogan responded: “God willing, if it is for the best … Whatever the process is, the process will function. We will do our part. We will keep our promise.”
Niinisto arrived in Turkey on Thursday and toured areas affected by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that killed more than 52,000 people in Turkey and Syria last month.
“I have known Erdogan for a long time. I am sure he has important messages,” Niinisto said Thursday while visiting Kahramanmaras, one of the provinces worst-hit by the Feb. 6 earthquake.
Before leaving Helsinki, Niinisto said Turkish officials had requested his presence in Ankara to announce Turkey’s decision on the Finnish bid. He also stressed his support for Sweden’s swift admission and in a Twitter post said he had had a “good conversation” with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson prior to his Turkey trip.
Kristersson said Sweden hoped for “a rapid ratification process” after Turkey’s May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections.