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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Erdogan backs Finland’s NATO bid

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday his government would agree to ratify Finland’s NATO candidacy, paving the way for the country’s entry into the North Atlantic defense alliance ahead of Sweden. .

The breakthrough came during Finnish President Sauli Niinistö’s visit to Ankara, where he met Erdogan. Finland and Sweden, abandoning a decades-long policy of non-alignment, applied to join NATO ten months ago after the start of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO enlargement requires the unanimous approval of the alliance’s 30 current members. Turkey and Hungary are the only countries that have not yet ratified the demands of the Scandinavian states. The Turkish government has accused Sweden and Finland of being too lenient with groups that Turkish authorities consider to be terrorist organizations. At the same time, Ankara expressed more doubts about Sweden.

“When it comes to fulfilling the promises made in the trilateral memorandum of understanding, we see that Finland has taken real and concrete steps,” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara after meeting Niinistö. “This is very important for the security of our country, and based on the progress made in Finland’s NATO accession protocol, we have decided to start the ratification process in our parliament,” he said. added the Turkish president.

With Erdogan’s agreement, Finland’s candidacy could be submitted to the Turkish parliament, where the president’s party and its allies have the majority. Ratification is expected to take place ahead of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14.

Commenting on Turkey’s willingness to consider ratifying Sweden’s candidacy, Erdogan said it would depend on Sweden taking “substantial steps”. Explaining the difference between the two Scandinavian countries from Ankara’s perspective, Erdogan said Sweden was “soaked in terrorism”, citing protests by supporters of Kurdish militants in the streets of Stockholm as an example.

“There are no such protests in Finland,” he said. “For this reason, we had to consider Finland’s application separately from Sweden.”

Niinistö hailed Turkey’s willingness to move forward with his country’s candidacy for Swedish as a second official language, but also expressed solidarity with its neighbour.

“I have the feeling that Finland’s NATO membership will not be complete without Sweden,” he said.

Last June, Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed a memorandum of understanding to resolve disputes over the membership of the two Scandinavian states. The document included provisions responding to Ankara’s claims that Stockholm and Helsinki were not taking its concerns seriously enough about the activities in Scandinavia of individuals it considers terrorists.

A series of protests in Stockholm, including a demonstration organized by an anti-Islamic activist who defiantly burned a Quran outside the Turkish embassy, ​​has also angered Turkish authorities. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Hungarian lawmakers pledged to ratify the demands of both countries. for NATO membership. However, the country’s parliament has repeatedly postponed the vote on ratification.

The leader of Orban’s parliamentary faction, Fidesz, said on Friday that a vote to ratify Finland’s candidacy would take place on March 27. Mate Kocsis wrote on Facebook that the Fidesz deputies, who have a parliamentary majority, “will vote yes unanimously”.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson expressed hope for a “rapid ratification process” after the Turkish elections. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Ankara’s decision will strengthen the security of NATO, Finland and Sweden. “The most important thing is that Finland and Sweden become full members of NATO quickly, not that they entered at the same time,” he said.

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