ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested Wednesday that his country may soon ratify Finland's application to join NATO, allowing for the possibility of the country joining the military alliance separately from Sweden.
Alarmed by Russia's invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Finland and Sweden abandoned decades of nonalignment and applied together to join the Western alliance. NATO requires the unanimous approval of its 30 existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary have failed so far to ratify the accession of the Nordic neighbors.
Turkey's government accuses Sweden of being too soft on groups that it deems to be terror organizations, including Kurdish groups, and said it has fewer problems with Finland.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto is scheduled to meet with Erdogan in Istanbul on Friday. Asked by reporters if the Turkish parliament might ratify Finland’s membership after that, Erdogan responded: “God willing, if it is for the best.”
“Whatever the process is, the process will function. We will do our part. We will keep our promise. We will meet with the president on Friday and fulfill the promise we made,” he said.
Niinisto and Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto are set to arrive in Turkey on Thursday, when the two officials plan to tour areas affected by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that killed more than 52,000 people in Turkey and Syria last month.
Speaking Wednesday in Helsinki, Niinisto also indicated Wednesday that Turkey was preparing to ratify Finland’s membership. Turkish officials requested his presence to announce Ankara's decision concerning Helsinki's bid, he said.
Niinisto said Finland has remained in close contact with both Sweden and Erdogan’s administration.
“It’s very important for Finland that both Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO memberships take place as soon as possible. I will continue my work to support Sweden’s NATO membership,” Niinisto said in a statement to Finnish news agency STT.
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said there were increasing indications in recent weeks that Turkey was prepared to ratify Finland’s membership before Sweden’s. He said his government was “ prepared for that situation as well.”
“We don’t hide at all that we preferred to be ratified together, to make the whole journey hand in hand,” Kristersson said during a visit to Berlin. But “I’ve always also expressed the fact that every … country in NATO makes their own ratification decision,s and we have full respect for that.”
A series of separate demonstrations in Stockholm, weden, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy, angered Turkish officials and gave Ankara another reason to look unfavorably on Sweden's NATO accession.
Kristersson said his government hoped for "a rapid ratification process" after Turkey's May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections. Erdogan is seeking a third consecutive term.
“We do believe … that we are ready for ratification, but we respect that only Turkey can make Turkey’s decisions,” the prime minister said.
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin and Jari Tanner in Helsinki, Finland, contributed.