Turkish President Says He Will Back Finland's NATO Bid As Hungary Sets March Vote For Ratification

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Turkish President Says He Will Back Finland's NATO Bid As Hungary Sets March Vote For Ratification

By RFE/RL March 17, 2023

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his government will move forward with ratifying Finland's NATO application, paving the way for the country to join the military bloc.

The breakthrough on March 17 came as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was in Ankara to meet with Erdogan and as Hungary scheduled a ratification vote on Finland's application for March 27.

Both Finland and Sweden applied to become NATO members 10 months ago in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, abandoning decades of nonalignment.

Turkey and Hungary are the only NATO member states that have not yet ratified the applications of the two Nordic countries. NATO requires the unanimous approval of its 30 members to expand.

The Turkish government held up the ratification because it said both Sweden and Finland had been too soft on groups that it deems to be terror organizations, but Ankara was always more critical of Sweden for harboring Kurdish militants and those it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

"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.

"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," the president added.

Niinisto said he welcomed the "good news" but said Finnish NATO membership is "not complete" without Sweden.

Turkey distinguishes Finland from Sweden because the latter "opened its arms" to "terrorist" groups while "there is no such problem" with Finland, Erdogan said.

Sweden's NATO membership will depend on Stockholm's response to Turkish demands, including the repatriation of 120 "terrorists," Erdogan said.

The United States welcomed Erdogan's announcement and encouraged Turkey to quickly ratify Sweden's accession into the military alliance as well.

"Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners that share NATO's values and will strengthen the alliance and contribute to European security," the White House said in a statement. "The United States believes that both countries should become members of NATO as soon as possible."

The statement urged Hungary to conclude the ratification process for both Finland and Sweden "without delay."

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said on March 17 that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ruling Fidesz party "supports Finland's NATO accession."

The party's parliamentary group leader said a vote on the ratification of Finland's accession to NATO has been scheduled for March 27. Mate Kocsis added on Facebook that the majority bloc will unanimously support the proposal.

Kocsis said that the Fidesz parliamentary group will make a decision on Sweden's accession to NATO later.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Turkey's decision to move ahead with the ratification of Finland's accession to the alliance.

"This will strengthen Finland's security, it will strengthen Sweden's security, and it will strengthen NATO's security," Stoltenberg said in a video message.

The accession process has already improved the security situation of both Nordic countries, he said.

"It is inconceivable that NATO would not respond should either Finland or Sweden come under attack. Their security matters to NATO," he said.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/turkey-finland-sweden-nato- erdogan/32323126.html

Copyright (c) 2023. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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