© Reuters. Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto shake hands during their meeting in Ankara, Turkey March 17, 2023. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
By Ece Toksabay and Ceyda Caglayan
ANKARA (Reuters) -President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey’s parliament will start ratifying Finland’s accession to NATO, lifting the biggest remaining hurdle to enlarging the Western defence alliance as war rages in Ukraine, though he held off approving Sweden’s bid.
Speaking in Ankara alongside Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto, Erdogan said Helsinki had won Turkey’s blessing after taking concrete steps to keep its promises to crack down on what Ankara sees as terrorists and to free up defence exports.
The three countries signed a deal in Madrid last year laying out steps to overcome Turkey’s concerns over accession, but Ankara has said Sweden has not gone far enough.
Erdogan spoke by phone with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and said Turkey was determined to continue talks with Sweden, with progress directly related to the concrete steps that it takes, the Turkish presidency said.
The parliaments of all 30 NATO members must ratify newcomers. Finland would represent the first enlargement since North Macedonia joined the trans-Atlantic pact in 2020.
“We have decided to initiate the ratification of Finland’s accession process to NATO in our parliament,” Erdogan told reporters after meeting with Niinisto, adding he hoped parliament would endorse the bid before May 14 elections.
Niinisto said he welcomed the decision and called it “very important” for Finland, which shares a long and remote border with Russia. He added it was important that neighbour Sweden also joined the alliance.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said Sweden still hoped to be accepted into NATO by the time of the alliance’s meeting in Vilnius in July.
“Our partners support us, both in making sure that we can become members of NATO as soon as possible, and in ensuring our security until such time as we become a full member,” he said.
“It is a question of when Sweden becomes a member, not if.”
In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO but faced unexpected objections from Turkey, which joined in 1952.
Ankara says Stockholm harbours members of what Turkey calls terrorist groups, particularly the Kurdish militant group PKK, a…
Click Here to Read the Full Original Article at All News…