Turkey agrees to start the process for Finland’s NATO membership

(CNN) The Turkish president says his government will begin ratifying Finland’s bid to join NATO.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement along with Finnish President Sauli Niinist√∂, saying that Finland had taken “concrete steps” to address concerns about groups that Turkey considers terrorist organizations.

Finland announced its intention to join NATO along with Sweden in May 2022, after the two countries relinquished their long-held non-aligned status due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The move was a setback for Moscow, as the war in Ukraine caused the kind of expansion of NATO that Russia invaded Ukraine to prevent.

The applications from Finland and Sweden were welcomed by almost all NATO leaders, but under NATO rules only one member state can veto the membership of a new applicant.

Turkey’s Erdogan threw a spanner in the works when he said he did not view both countries joining NATO “positively”, accusing them of harboring Kurdish “terrorist organisations”.

“We have decided to start the parliamentary ratification process of Finland’s NATO Accession Protocol,” Erdogan said at the press conference in Ankara.

Erdogan said he believes NATO will become “even stronger with Finland’s membership”.

“It is very good to hear this news,” added Niinist√∂.

Erdogan’s blessing removes the biggest obstacle to Finland’s NATO membership.

In a separate development, Hungary’s governing party said it would also approve Finland’s entry. A parliamentary vote had stalled, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accusing Finland and Sweden of spreading “outright lies” about his country’s record.

In late February, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said that while Turkey had expressed some concern about the applications from both Sweden and Finland, it was particularly concerned about Sweden’s.

On Friday, Niinist√∂ urged Turkey to reconsider Sweden’s offer.

“I feel that Finland’s NATO membership is not complete without Sweden,” he said.

But Erdogan said Turkey would not change its approach to the Swedish NATO bid unless “positive steps” were taken.

Turkey accuses Sweden of harboring members of terror groups, something Sweden denies.

CNN’s Eyad Kourdi contributed to this report.

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