Finnish president: Turkey may approve NATO application on Friday
A recently announced imminent official trip by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to Turkey suggests Ankara may give the go-ahead to Finland's NATO accession application as early as the end of this week, Finnish public broadcaster Yle reports.
Previously, Niinistö had been due to visit Turkey in May, but is now heading there today, Thursday, a development seen as a likely bringing-forward of the Turkish approval of Finland in NATO, from May, to March.
Should Ankara agree to Finland's NATO membership, this leaves only Hungary as a hold-out, but at the same time it means Turkey is treating the application separately, and more favorably, than Sweden's NATO bid.
In a statement provided Wednesday, President Niinistö said: "The Turks have hoped that I will be there to acknowledge it when they announce this decision. Of course, I answered the invitation affirmatively and I will go to accept his statement of intent," Yle reports on its English-language page.
Sources also told Finland's public broadcaster that the president plans to sign Finland's domestic legislation on NATO next week.
On the Turkish side, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who faces elections in mid-May, issued what Yle called a vaguely-worded statement that Turkey would stick to what it has promised to Finland.
A source also told Yle that Erdogan is expected to tell Niinistö, when the pair meet, that Turkey will accept Finland's NATO membership, subject to ratification by the Turkish parliament.
This news follows a Reuters report that the legislature in Ankara is "very likely" to ratify Finland's NATO membership application before it is dissolved in mid-April, ahead of the elections.
The same cannot be said of Sweden's application, however.
Niinstö said that there has been "close communication" between his office and Erdogan's ever since Finland announced its application, in late spring 2022 and in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto, who will accompany Niinistö on his forthcoming two-day official trip to Turkey, reiterated this, saying "We have always worked specifically with the Turkish presidential administration because it is the views of the Turkish president that are decisive at this decision-making stage."
President Niinistö said on Wednesday that the reason for his invitation to visit this week has been clear for some time.
The trip's itinerary will include a visit to the earthquake-devastated area in southeast Turkey, and a meeting with Niinistö's Turkish opposite number, in Istanbul.
Turkey has thus decided that it will consider Finland and Sweden's NATO applications, filed at the same time, separately.
Estonia ratified both applications back in July 2022.
The Finnish president says he has spoken with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on the topic in recent days.
"I will continue my work to support Sweden's NATO membership," Niinistö said.
Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections take place May 14, while Finland itself also holds parliamentary elections, on April 2.
The next step for Finland is to submit documents related to NATO membership to the US administration, to keep as soon as the final ratifications are received from Turkey and Hungary, administratively speaking the final step before full accession, Yle reports.
That leaves Hungary. Budapest was expected to green light Finland and Sweden's NATO membership at a parliamentary session beginning next Monday, but the ruling Fidesz party says it is likely to postpone this.
While Turkey's main beef with Sweden was the latter's alleged harboring of terrorists Ankara sees as a threat, for Hungary, it is thought that the delays are an attempt to get better EU funding negotiation terms – in fact Fidesz itself said the ratification delay relates to Brussels talks on this topic.
The alleged mistreatment of the Hungarian-speaking minority in Ukraine's far west has also been touted as a reason for Budapest to drag its heels in respect of the Russian invasion, compared with the stance taken by most other European nations.
Finland, Estonia's neighbor to the north, was for decades ostensibly neutral. By joining NATO the alliance's eastern flank would be extended northwards, by over 1,300km, all of it bordering the Russian Federation and converging with that of existing NATO member Norway, in the far north.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte