The President of Finland is in Turkey for negotiations on the NATO application

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is meeting with his Finnish counterpart in Ankara on Friday, raising hopes that …

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is meeting his Finnish counterpart in Ankara on Friday, raising hopes that the talks will lead to Turkey’s approval of Finland’s bid to join NATO.

Despite the rain, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Erdogan inspected the guard of honor at the presidential palace in the Bestepe district of the Turkish capital.

The leaders’ talks will focus on Helsinki’s bid to join the military alliance.

Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO last May after Russia invaded Ukraine, abandoning decades of non-alignment.

Expansion of the 30-nation bloc has been held back by Turkey and Hungary, the only two countries that have yet to ratify the Nordic countries’ bids, which must be approved by the parliaments of each NATO member.

Erdoğan has expressed specific objections to countries — especially Sweden — joining NATO. In June of last year, Turkey, Sweden and Finland signed an agreement designed to smooth the way for the accession of the Nordic countries.

The document included points related to Ankara’s claims that Stockholm and Helsinki have been too soft on what they consider terrorists, particularly supporters of Kurdish militants who have waged a 39-year insurgency in Turkey and people Ankara associates with the 2016 coup attempt.

A series of separate demonstrations in Stockholm, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned a Koran outside the Turkish embassy, ​​also drew the ire of Turkish officials.

Erdogan suggested on Wednesday that his country may soon agree to Finland’s bid to join NATO. Turkish officials have previously said Finland joining Sweden was the more likely outcome.

Asked by reporters if the Turkish parliament could ratify Finland’s membership after Niinista’s visit, Erdogan replied: “God willing, if it’s for the best … Whatever the process, the process will function. We will do our part. We will fulfill our promise.”

Niinisto arrived in Turkey on Thursday and visited areas affected by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 52,000 people in Turkey and Syria last month.

“I have known Erdogan for a long time. I’m sure he has important messages,” Niinista said Thursday while visiting Kahramanmaras, one of the provinces hardest hit by the February 6 earthquake.

Before leaving Helsinki, Niinista said Turkish officials had asked him to be present in Ankara to announce Turkey’s decision on Finland’s bid. He also stressed his support for Sweden’s swift adoption and said on Twitter that he had a “good conversation” with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristerson before his trip to Turkey.

Kristerson said Sweden hopes for a “quick ratification process” after Turkey’s May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections.

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