ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that his government will move forward with ratifying Finland’s application to NATO, paving the way for the country to join the military bloc ahead of Sweden.
The breakthrough came when Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was in Ankara to meet Erdogan. Both Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership 10 months ago, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, abandoning decades of non-alignment.
NATO requires unanimous approval from its 30 existing members to expand, with Turkey and Hungary the only countries that have yet to ratify the Nordic nation’s bid. The Turkish government has accused both Sweden and Finland of being too soft on groups it considers terrorist organizations, but has expressed more reservations about Sweden.
“When it comes to fulfilling its promises in the trilateral memorandum of understanding, we have seen that Finland has taken authentic and concrete steps,” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara after meeting with Niinista.
“This sensitivity for the security of our country and based on the progress achieved in the protocol for Finland’s accession to NATO, we have decided to initiate the ratification process in our parliament,” the president added.
With Erdogan’s deal, 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 on Wednesday that his country could approach Finland’s accession after Niinist’s trip.
Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed an agreement in June last year to resolve differences over the membership of the Nordic countries.
The document included clauses addressing Ankara’s claims that Stockholm and Helsinki have not taken seriously enough its concerns about what it considers terrorists, particularly supporters of Kurdish militants who have waged a 39-year insurgency in Turkey and people Ankara has linked to a 2016 coup attempt.
A series of separate demonstrations in Stockholm, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned a Koran outside the Turkish embassy, also angered Turkish officials.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of parliament have repeatedly promised to ratify the two countries’ requests for NATO membership. But the country’s parliament has repeatedly delayed the ratification vote and has not given an exact date when the vote will take place.
Erdogan suggested on Wednesday that his country could soon agree to Finland’s request to join NATO. Turkish officials have previously said a more likely outcome is Finland joining ahead of Sweden.
Niinisto arrived in Turkey on Thursday and toured areas affected by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 52,000 people in Turkey and Syria last month.
“I have known Erdogan for a long time. I’m sure it has important messages,” Niinisto said Thursday during a visit to Kahramanmaras, one of the provinces hardest hit by the February 6 earthquake.
Before leaving Helsinki, Niinisto said Turkish officials had requested his presence in Ankara to announce Turkey’s decision on Finland’s bid. He also stressed his support for Sweden’s swift admission and said in a post on Twitter that he had a “good conversation” with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson before his trip to Turkey.
Kristersson said Sweden hopes for a “quick ratification process” after Turkey’s May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections.