ANKARA: President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkiye’s parliament will begin ratifying Finland’s Nato bid, but not that of Sweden, removing the biggest remaining hurdle to enlarging the Western defence alliance as war continues to rage in Ukraine.
Speaking in Ankara alongside Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto, Erdogan said Helsinki won Turkiye’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.
Ankara will continue discussions with Stockholm on terrorism-related issues and its Nato membership bid would depend directly on measures taken, he added.
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.
Swedish FM says the announcement had disappointed him
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.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said he regretted Turkiye’s decision to hold off moving forward on his country’s Nato bid.
“This is a development that we did not want, but that we were prepared for,” Billstrom told journalists, adding that the country’s priority was now securing ratifications from the two holdouts —Turkiye and Hungary.
US plea to Turkiye
The US welcomed the Turkish announcement, and encouraged Turkiye 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 US believes that both countries should become members of Nato as soon as possible,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
Nato chief welcomes
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hailed Turkiye’s decision to push ahead with ratifying Finland’s membership, and said Sweden should also be allowed to join “as soon as possible”.
“The most important thing is that both Finland and Sweden become full members of Nato quickly, not whether they join at exactly the same time,” Stoltenberg said.
The head of the Western military alliance said Helsinki’s membership “will strengthen Finland’s security, it will strengthen Sweden’s security, and it will strengthen Nato’s security”. He called on the Turkish parliament to vote on the ratification soon.
Turkiye and Hungary are the only Nato members still to ratify the Finnish and Swedish applications, which must be accepted by all 30 existing members of the alliance.
Shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had announced his decision, Hungary said that its parliament will vote on Finland’s membership bid on March 27.
Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2023
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