ANKARA, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed Friday to ask the parliament to vote on Finland's NATO membership bid, but delayed that of Sweden, saying Finland has taken concrete steps to address Türkiye's security concerns.
"We have observed concrete and sincere steps from Finland in recent times. As a result of Finland's sensitivities towards our legitimate security concerns, we have decided to initiate the approval process" in the parliament, Erdogan said at a press conference with Finland's President Sauli Niinisto in the Turkish capital of Ankara.
With Erdogan's backing, Finland's NATO bid will be forwarded to the Turkish parliament, where the Turkish President's party and ally hold the majority. The parliament will go into recess before mid-April, in the run-up to the country's presidential and parliament elections set for May 14.
The Turkish president said he hoped Finland's NATO bid could be finalized before the elections.
He stressed he believed that NATO will further strengthen and play a crucial role in global security with Finland's admission.
Erdogan meanwhile said Türkiye still expected Sweden to extradite 120 members of what Turkey calls terrorist groups, before his country approaches the Swedish membership bid "positively."
Finnish President Niinisto, for his part, welcomed Türkiye's decision as "a significant move for all the people of Finland," but hinted that Finland would only join the military bloc together with Sweden.
"Because we have joint security interests. We have borders in the Baltic Sea. I hope we will be an alliance with 32 members at the Vilnius Summit," he said, speaking of the planned NATO summit in July.
Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO in May 2022 in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Their accession to NATO needs the approval of all member states of the military alliance. Türkiye and Hungary are the only NATO member states that are holding back their approvals.
Türkiye accused the two Nordic countries of supporting anti-Turkish Kurdish organizations and political dissidents. Türkiye also asked the two countries to extradite suspects affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Gulen Movement.
In June 2022, Türkiye lifted its objections after reaching a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sweden and Finland ahead of the NATO summit in Madrid.
In the MoU, Finland and Sweden pledged to support Türkiye's fight against terrorism, and agreed to address Türkiye's "pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects expeditiously and thoroughly."
The PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the United States and the European Union, has been rebelling against the Turkish government for more than three decades.
The Gulen Movement is led by and named after the U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen who is regarded by his followers as a spiritual leader. The Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding the failed coup in 2016 that killed at least 250 people.
Lifting defense industry restrictions on Türkiye was another condition of the deal. Sweden and Finland have restricted arms exports to Türkiye after the country started a cross-border operation in northern Syria in 2019. On Sept. 30 last year, Sweden's Inspectorate of Strategic Products, which controls arms exports, said it had authorized military exports to Türkiye.
Several protests in the Swedish capital of Stockholm in January, including a demonstration that a far-right politician burned the Quran, also infuriated Ankara.