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Article: Finland's NATO membership now in "Turkey's hands", Finnish president says

Finland's NATO membership now in "Turkey's hands", Finnish president says

Finland's NATO membership now in "Turkey's hands", Finnish president says

HELSINKI (Reuters) -The fate of Finland's bid to join NATO is in "Turkey's hands", President Sauli Niinisto said on Friday, after the Finnish parliament agreed it would ratify NATO's founding treaties on Feb. 28.

Last May, Finland and neighbouring Sweden applied to join the Western military alliance in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But existing member Turkey has opposed their memberships, accusing the Nordic countries of harbouring what it calls Kurdish terrorist groups.

Finland's parliament decided on Friday it would vote on Feb. 28 to approve the necessary legislation to allow the country to eventually become a member of NATO, the head of its foreign affairs committee said.

"It is an expression of our will. Turkey's stance towards our will is exclusively and only in Turkey's hands," Niinisto told reporters on the sidelines of the Munich security gathering.

The legislation that ratifies NATO's founding treaties in Finland is likely to be passed, given that most members of parliament are in favour of joining the alliance, bringing Finland a step closer to membership ahead of Sweden.

Niinisto said Finland would go ahead with its membership without Sweden if Turkey decided to ratify the Finnish bid but not the Swedish one.

"We don't want to and also can't withdraw our application," Niinisto said.

Finland will not become a member of the Western military alliance until Turkey and Hungary ratify its bid.

"The goal is that the national legislative process required to join NATO is finished during this electoral term," committee chief Jussi Halla-aho told reporters on Friday just two weeks before the parliament breaks for elections.

Turkey has said it was not supportive of Sweden's bid, though Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in January said he was open to ratifying Finland's application.

"We are not taking part in any bazaar negotiations... we take care of our own part (in the ratifications)," the foreign affairs committee's vice chairman Erkki Tuomioja told reporters.  

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said last Tuesday it does not matter whether the Nordic countries join together as long as the bids are ratified "as soon as possible".

Both Sweden and Finland had applied for membership last May and while insisting they wish to join simultaneously, leaders of both countries have said they cannot rule out Finland going first.

The parliament's foreign affairs committee maintained in its report that the use and storage of nuclear weapons will remain forbidden in Finland, also as NATO member.

(Reporting by Essi Lehto, editing by Anne Kauranen and Angus MacSwan)

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