Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country will start the ratification process for Finland's membership to NATO. The announcement caps a nearly 10-month wait for Finland to join the alliance as Erdogan has delayed a decision on the matter.

"NATO will become stronger with Finland's membership and thus, I believe, will play an active role in maintaining global security and stability," Erdogan said Friday in a joint press conference in Ankara with Finnish President Sauli Ninnistö.

In May 2022, Finnish and Swedish officials announced plans to join the NATO alliance, an historic shift for both countries. But the road to NATO membership has been a long one and promises to be even longer for Sweden, which is still waiting on Erdogan.

He has vowed not to sign off on Stockholm's bid unless it returns more than 120 members of Kurdish militant groups. Turkey considers them terrorists and accuses Sweden of harboring them.

"We will continue our talks with Sweden on the basis of NATO's principles and our approach to the fight against terrorism," said Erdogan.

Finland, which shares an 810-mile border with Russia, has remained neutral for years. But since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, support for NATO membership inside the Scandinavian country has risen dramatically.

In a statement, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said, "The United States welcomes President Erdogan's announcement that he will send Finland's NATO accession protocols to the Turkish Parliament and looks forward to the prompt conclusion of that process. We encourage Türkiye to quickly ratify Sweden's accession protocols as well."

Rob Schmitz reported from Berlin. Fatma Tanis reported from Adana, Turkey.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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