“When it comes to fulfilling its commitments in the Trilateral Memorandum of Understanding, we have seen Finland take authentic and concrete steps,” Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara after his meeting with Niinisto.
With Erdogan’s agreement, Finland’s application can now go to the Turkish parliament, where the president’s party and its allies have a majority. Ratification is expected before Turkey holds its presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14.
Erdogan suggested on Wednesday that his country could pick up Finland’s entry after Niinisto’s trip.
NATO needs the unanimous approval of its 30 existing members to expand, and Turkey and Hungary have so far failed to ratify the accession of their Nordic neighbours.
The Turkish government accuses Sweden of being too lenient towards groups it considers to be terrorist organizations, including Kurdish groups, and has said it has fewer problems with Finland.
“This sensitivity to the security of our country and based on the progress made in the protocol for Finland’s accession to NATO, we have decided to start the ratification process in our parliament,” Erdogan said on Friday.
Turkey, Finland and Sweden signed an agreement in June last year to resolve disputes over membership of the Nordic states.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s previous story follows below.
ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with his Finnish counterpart in Ankara on Friday, raising hopes that talks will lead to Turkey’s approval of Finland’s NATO membership bid.
Despite the rain, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Erdogan viewed the military guard of honor at the presidential palace in the Turkish capital of Bestepe.
Leaders’ talks will focus on Helsinki’s application to join the military alliance.
Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership in May last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, giving up decades of non-alignment.
The expansion of the 30-country bloc is held back by Turkey and Hungary, the only two countries that have not yet ratified the Nordic states’ bids, which must be approved by the parliaments of each NATO member.
Erdogan has expressed specific objections to countries – especially Sweden – joining NATO. In June last year, Turkey, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement to smoothen accession to the Nordic countries.
The document contained clauses addressing Ankara’s claims that Stockholm and Helsinki have been too soft on those they consider terrorists, particularly supporters of Kurdish militants who have waged a 39-year uprising in Turkey and people Ankara associates with a attempted coup in 2016.
A series of separate demonstrations in Stockholm, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned the Quran outside the Turkish embassy, also angered Turkish officials.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and lawmakers have repeatedly pledged to ratify both countries’ applications for NATO membership. But the country’s parliament has repeatedly postponed a ratification vote and has not given a firm date when the vote will take place.
Erdogan suggested on Wednesday that his country could soon agree to Finland’s application to join NATO. Turkish officials previously said Finland’s entry before Sweden was a more likely outcome.
When asked by reporters whether the Turkish parliament could ratify Finland’s membership after Niinisto’s visit, Erdogan replied: “God willing, if it is best… Whatever the process, it will work. We will do our part. We will keep our promise.”
Niinisto arrived in Turkey on Thursday and toured areas hit by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake last month that killed more than 52,000 people in Turkey and Syria.
“I have known Erdogan for a long time. I’m sure he has important messages,” Niinisto said on Thursday while visiting Kahramanmaras, one of the provinces worst hit by the Feb. 6 earthquake.
Before leaving Helsinki, Niinisto said Turkish officials had requested his presence in Ankara to announce Turkey’s decision on the Finnish bid. He also stressed his support for Sweden’s swift admission, saying in a Twitter post that he had a “good talk” with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson prior to his trip to Turkey.
Kristersson said Sweden hoped for “a speedy ratification process” after Turkey’s May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections.