Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would “fulfil” its commitment to Finland’s NATO membership, sending the clearest signal yet that after months of negotiations , he will approve the Nordic country to join NATO.
“We will meet with the Finnish president and fulfill our commitments,” state-run Anadolu news agency quoted Erdogan as telling reporters in parliament.
According to a statement issued by the Finnish head of state on Wednesday, Erdogan asked Finnish President Sauli Niinisto to meet him in person to agree, and Niinistör will travel to Ankara on Thursday.
Both Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine last year. Turkey and Hungary are the only two NATO countries that have not approved the bid, which would require approval from all 30 member states. Hungary postpones ratification vote.
“I’ve said yes to the invitation,” Niinisto said. “It is well known that once Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes the decision to approve Finland’s NATO membership, he will want to meet and fulfill the promises made by one president to the other.”
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People familiar with the discussions told Bloomberg in February that Turkey was close to making a decision to allow Finland to join. Sweden’s entry could take longer because Erdogan has criticized its stance against Kurdish militants that Turkey considers terrorists.
Erdogan’s tougher approach to Sweden could help win over conservative and nationalist voters as he faces elections in May. But he will need to balance such rhetoric with the need to win congressional support for Turkey’s purchase of American-made F-16 fighter jets.
Relations between Sweden and Turkey cooled further after demonstrations in Stockholm in January, including the burning of the Koran. Sweden has since blocked at least two plans to burn the holy book of Islam and the government has introduced a long-planned anti-terrorism law that Turkey has now tied to NATO approval.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Christensen told reporters on Wednesday that his government had also received indications that Finland might join NATO ahead of Sweden.
“We are also prepared for this situation,” the chancellor told a news conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Schulz. “We’d prefer to get ratified together and go through the journey together, but I’ve also always said that all NATO countries make their own ratification decisions and we fully respect that.”
Niinistö said he would continue to support Sweden’s bid to join NATO and that the two countries should join the alliance “as soon as possible”.