Finland and Sweden jointly applied for membership, but Ankara has so far backed only Helsinki’s bid.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey will ratify Finland’s NATO membership, paving the way for the country to join the military bloc ahead of Sweden.
Erdogan announced the decision on Friday after meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in Ankara. Without Erdogan’s approval, Finland would not be able to join because NATO countries must unanimously agree on new members.
Sweden and Finland jointly handed over their membership applications in Brussels in May, reversing their longstanding policy of nonalignment after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Turkish government accused both countries of being too soft on groups that it calls “terrorist” organisations but expressed more reservations about Sweden.
“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 said at a news conference, referring to an agreement signed by Helsinki, Stockholm and Ankara in June to pave the way for the two Nordic countries to enter the military alliance.
“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 said.
After Erdogan’s green light, Finland’s application may now go to the Turkish parliament, where the president’s party and its allies hold a majority. Ratification is expected before Turkey holds presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14.
Al Jazeera’s Resul Sardar, reporting from Ankara, said the announcement signalled a shift in NATO’s approach on the matter. “NATO had so far insisted that Finland and Sweden must access as a package,” Sardar said. “It seems that NATO has changed that position.”
Before his arrival on Thursday, Niinisto said Turkish officials had requested his presence in Ankara to announce Turkey’s decision on the Finnish bid.
“I have known Erdogan for a long time. I am sure he has important messages,” Niinisto said while visiting Kahramanmaras, one of the Turkish provinces worst-hit by magnitude 7.8 and 7.6 earthquakes on February 6.
He also stressed his support for Sweden’s swift admission and in a Twitter post said he had had a “good conversation” with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson prior to his trip to Turkey.
Kristersson said Sweden hopes for “a rapid ratification process” after Turkey’s elections.
United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also hailed the announcement, saying Washington “looks forward to the prompt conclusion of that process”.
He added the US encourages Turkey to “quickly ratify Sweden’s accession protocols as well”.
Meanwhile, he called on Hungary, where official approval has also been stalled, to conclude its ratification process “without delay”.
Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed their June agreement to resolve differences over the Nordic states’ membership.
The document included clauses addressing Ankara’s claims that Stockholm and Helsinki did not take seriously enough its concerns with those it considers “terrorists”, particularly supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a 39-year armed campaign in Turkey, and people Ankara associates with a 2016 coup attempt.
Stockholm, however, angered Erdogan this year by granting permission to a far-right politician to protest in front of the Turkish embassy, where the politician burned a Quran. Erdogan later said he would not support the accession of countries that permit “blasphemy.”
“If you do not show respect to the religious beliefs of the Republic of Turkiye or Muslims, you will not receive any support for NATO [membership] from us,” he said.