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Turkish parliament clears last hurdle in Finland’s NATO membership

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto shake hands during a welcoming ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, on March 17. (Photo by Reuters)

Turkey’s parliament on Thursday approved a bill that allows Finland to join the NATO military alliance, clearing the last major hurdle for Helsinki to join the US-led alliance as the year-long war in Ukraine rages on.

Ankara was the last among 30 members of the alliance to ratify Finland’s membership, which came after months of dilly-dallying.

All 276 legislators present in the parliament on Thursday unanimously voted in favor of Finland’s bid, days after Hungary’s parliament gave its nod.

Turkish Parliament’s foreign affairs commission unanimously approved the Finland Bill last week, as Ankara prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14.

Earlier in March, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Finland secured its NATO membership after taking concrete steps to keep promises to crack down on what Ankara describes as "terrorist groups" in Finland, and to free up defense exports.

In a statement after the vote, Finnish president Sauli Niinisto said his country is “now ready to join NATO” and thanked all the 30 member states of the Western alliance for supporting Finland’s bid.

“All 30 NATO members have now ratified Finland’s membership. I want to thank every one of them for their trust and support,” Niinisto was quoted as saying.

“Finland will be a strong and capable ally, committed to the security of the Alliance. We look forward to welcoming Sweden to join us as soon as possible”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also took to Twitter to commend the decision.

“I welcome the vote of the Grand National Assembly of #Türkiye to complete the ratification of #Finland’s accession. This will make the whole #NATO family stronger & safer,” Stoltenberg said in a tweet.

Finland and Sweden applied to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance in 2022 after Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine. But the process was delayed due to reservations expressed by Turkey and Hungary.

Ankara accused Helsinki of supporting and housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations”. Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban, on the other hand, claimed that Helsinki was spreading “outright lies” about his country’s rule of law record.

The hard-nosed stance gradually faded, as both NATO members accepted Finland as the latest addition to the alliance.

However, both Turkey and Hungary are still united against opposing Sweden’s admission to the military alliance. Ankara says it has not gone far enough in cracking down on "terrorists" inside the country. 

The US State Department welcomed Turkey's ratification of Finland and encouraged it to quickly ratify Sweden's accession as well.

"Sweden and Finland are both strong, capable partners that share NATO's values and will strengthen the Alliance and contribute to European security," a spokesman for the department said on Friday.

Soon after Turkey voted for Finland’s inclusion, Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin also spoke in favor of her neighbor Sweden.

"Finland stands with Sweden now and in the future and supports its application," she said.

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