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Turkey’s Erdogan says he will back Finland’s NATO bid

Finland and Sweden have jointly applied for membership, but Ankara has so far only supported Helsinki’s bid.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey will ratify Finland’s NATO membership, paving the way for the country to join the military bloc ahead of Sweden.

Erdogan announced the decision Friday after a meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in Ankara. Without Erdogan’s approval, Finland would not be able to join because NATO countries must agree unanimously on new members.

Sweden and Finland jointly handed over their membership applications in Brussels in May, reversing their longstanding policy of non-alignment following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Turkish government accused both countries of being too soft on groups it calls “terrorist” organizations, but expressed more reservations about Sweden.

“When it comes to fulfilling its commitments in the Trilateral Memorandum of Understanding, we have seen Finland take authentic and concrete steps,” Erdogan said at a news conference, referring to an agreement signed by Helsinki, Stockholm and Ankara in June. signed to pave the way for the two Nordic countries to enter into the military alliance.

“This sensitivity to the security of our country and based on the progress made in the protocol for Finland’s accession to NATO, we have decided to start the ratification process in our parliament,” said the president.

After the green light from Erdogan, Finland’s application can now go to the Turkish parliament, where the president’s party and its allies have a majority. Ratification is expected before Turkey holds presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14.

Al Jazeera’s Resul Sardar, reporting from Ankara, said the announcement signaled a shift in NATO’s approach to the matter. “NATO had so far insisted that Finland and Sweden be allowed access as a package,” Sardar said. “It seems that NATO has changed that position.”

Before his arrival on Thursday, Niinisto said Turkish officials had requested his presence in Ankara to announce Turkey’s decision on the Finnish bid.

“I have known Erdogan for a long time. I’m sure he has important messages,” Niinisto said during a visit to Kahramanmaras, one of the Turkish provinces worst hit by magnitude 7.8 and magnitude 7.6 earthquakes on Feb. 6.

He also stressed his support for Sweden’s swift admission, saying in a Twitter post that he had a “good talk” with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson prior to his trip to Turkey.

Kristersson said Sweden hopes for “a speedy ratification process” after the Turkish elections.

Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed their agreement in June to resolve disagreements over the membership of the Nordic states.

The document contained clauses addressing Ankara’s claims that Stockholm and Helsinki were not taking their concerns about those they consider “terrorists” seriously enough, particularly supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has been waging an armed campaign for 39 years. performs in Turkey. and people Ankara associates with a 2016 coup attempt.

Stockholm, however, angered Erdogan this year by allowing a far-right politician to protest in front of the Turkish embassy, ​​where the politician burned a Quran. Erdogan later said he would not support the entry of countries that allow “blasphemy”.

“If you don’t show respect for the religious beliefs of the Republic of Turkiye or Muslims, you won’t get any support for NATO membership from us,” he said.