Turkish president Erdogan hints at approval for Finland’s NATO accession

Bloomberg |
Mar 16, 2023 12:38 PM IST

Erdogan: “We will meet Finland’s president and do what our promise requires of us,” state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Erdogan as telling reporters at parliament.

Turkey will “fulfill” its promise to Finland about its bid to join NATO, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, giving the clearest signal yet that he’ll approve the Nordic country’s entry into the alliance after months of negotiations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.(AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.(AP)

“We will meet Finland’s president and do what our promise requires of us,” state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Erdogan as telling reporters at parliament.

Erdogan asked Finnish President Sauli Niinisto to meet him in person to give his approval, and Niinisto is due to travel to Ankara on Thursday, according to a statement from Finland’s head of state on Wednesday.

Sweden and Finland both applied to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Turkey and Hungary are the only two NATO nations that haven’t ratified the bids, which require approval of all 30 members. Hungary has delayed its ratification vote.

“I have said yes to the invitation,” Niinisto said. “It was known that once Turkey’s President Erdogan has made up his decision on ratifying Finland’s NATO membership, he will want to meet and make good on his promise from one president to another.”

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People familiar with the discussions told Bloomberg in February that Turkey was nearing a decision to allow Finland’s accession. Sweden’s entry could take longer since Erdogan has criticized its stance toward Kurdish militants, which Turkey sees as terrorists.

Erdogan’s tougher approach toward Sweden may help to garner support from conservative and nationalist voters as he faces elections in May. But he needs to balance that rhetoric with a need to get US congressional support for Turkey’s purchase of American-made F-16 fighter jets.

Relations between Sweden and Turkey cooled further after January demonstrations in Stockholm including the burning of a Koran. Sweden has since prevented at least two planned burnings of Islam’s holy book and the government has proposed a long-planned anti-terror law, which Turkey has now linked to its NATO ratification.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told reporters on Wednesday that his government has also received indications that Finland may be admitted into NATO before Sweden.

“We are prepared for that situation as well,” the prime minister said at a press conference in Berlin with Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “We preferred to be ratified together, to make the whole journey hand in hand, but I have also always expressed that all NATO countries make their own ratification decisions and we have full respect for that.”

Niinisto said he will continue to support Sweden’s NATO membership application and that both countries should join the alliance “as soon as possible.”

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