Turkey agreed to start the process of Finland’s NATO membership

(CNN) Turkey’s president says his government is beginning to ratify Finland’s bid to join NATO, paving the way for the country to join the security alliance after months of delays.

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

Finland announced its intention to join NATO in May 2022, along with Sweden, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted both countries to abandon their long-standing non-aligned status.

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

Almost all NATO leaders welcomed Finland’s and Sweden’s application, but according to NATO rules, only one member state can veto the membership of a new applicant.

Turkey’s Erdogan threw a wrench in the wheel when he said he did not view the two NATO-joined countries “positively” and accused them of harboring Kurdish “terrorist organizations”.

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

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

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

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

Hungary’s ruling party announced in a separate development phase that it would also accept Finland’s accession. The parliamentary vote was deadlocked, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused Finland and Sweden of spreading “pure lies” about his country’s history of the rule of law.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in late February that while Turkey had expressed some concern about both Sweden’s and Finland’s applications, it is mostly concerned about Sweden’s application.

On Friday, Niinist√∂ demanded that Turkey reevaluate Sweden’s offer.

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

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

Turkey accuses Sweden of harboring members of terrorist groups, which Sweden denies.

CNN’s Eyad Kourdi contributed to this report.

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