Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö will head to Turkey this week, purportedly to receive positive news from Ankara about his country’s NATO membership bid.
Niinistö arrives in Turkey on Thursday. He will visit areas devastated by the series of earthquakes and aftershocks in February, which left tens of thousands dead and millions more needing food, water, and shelter.
On Friday, Niinistö will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul.
“In addition to post-earthquake reconstruction, the topics of discussion are the geopolitical situation, bilateral relations between Finland and Turkey, and Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership,” the Finnish president’s office said in a statement.
Niinistö’s visit — the latest in a series of shuttle diplomacy trips by senior Finnish politicians aimed at shoring up support for their stalled NATO application process — comes as Erdogan signals that he could finally move to ratify the bid.
Asked by reporters about giving a green light to Finland, Erdogan responded: “God willing, if it is for the best.”
A longer statement from the Finnish president said Erdogan indicated he wanted to meet “President to President” when there was a decision on NATO to communicate to the Finns.
“The Turks had hoped that I would be there to acknowledge the answer when they announced this decision. Of course, I accepted the invitation and will go to receive his expression of intent,” Niinistö wrote.
So far, 30 NATO members have approved the applications for Finland and Sweden, and 28 have ratified their accession. Only Turkey and Hungary have failed to do so.
Turkey’s government accuses Sweden of being too soft on groups it deems to be terror organisations and existential threats, including Kurdish groups and critics of Erdogan.
Ankara has said, however, that it has fewer problems with Finland’s membership.
Speaking during a visit to Berlin on Wednesday, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson noted there have been increasing signs in recent weeks that Turkey is prepared to ratify Finland’s membership before Sweden’s.
He said: “We are 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 continued. But “I’ve always also expressed the fact that every … country in NATO makes their own ratification decisions and we have full respect for that.”
The Swedish leader said there has been “very good progress” and “we do believe … that we are ready for ratification, but we respect that only Turkey can make Turkey’s decisions.”
“Of course, we hope for a rapid ratification process after the Turkish election,” he added.
Erdogan is seeking a third consecutive term in office in May 14 elections.
Turkish officials have been angered by a series of separate demonstrations in Sweden, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy.