AP

NATO chief: membership for Finland, Sweden ‘top priority’

Feb 28, 2023, 6:22 AM | Updated: 7:49 am

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin meet the pres...

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin meet the press before SAMAK's annual meeting in Helsinki, Finland, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023. SAMAK is the Cooperation Committee of the Nordic Social Democratic parties and trade union LOs. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

(Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP)

HELSINKI (AP) — NATO membership for Finland and Sweden is “a top priority,” alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday, urging members Turkey and Hungary to urgently ratify the Nordic countries’ accession.

Stoltenberg told a news conference with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Helsinki that progress is being made on securing membership for the two countries, but didn’t disclose details. “I am absolutely confident that both Finland and Sweden will become members of NATO,” he added.

“My message has been for a long time … that time has come to finalize the ratification process. The time is now to ratify in both Budapest and in Ankara,” Stoltenberg said.

NATO requires unanimous approval from its 30 existing members to admit new ones. Turkey and Hungary are the only alliance members that haven’t formally endorsed Sweden and Finland’s accession. Most of the opposition comes from Turkey, which wants stronger action, mostly from Sweden, against groups Ankara considers to be terrorists.

Stoltenberg repeated that Finland and Sweden fully meet NATO’s entry criteria and “have delivered on what they were supposed to do” after they applied to join the alliance in May.

Finland’s Marin hinted that slowing down the accession process for the two countries risked eroding NATO’s credibility and its open door policy for new members.

Stoltenberg, who is expected to step down in October after eight years at the post, said Turkey has agreed to resume talks with Finland and Sweden on their membership bids in Brussels early next month to iron out obstacles and issues that Ankara has, especially with Sweden.

He said the Hungarian Parliament “has made it clear” that it would deliberate ratification in a few days and expressed hope that a positive vote would come soon.

A senior Hungarian lawmaker said last week that Hungary was planning to send a delegation to Finland and Sweden to resolve “political disputes” that have raised doubts among some Hungarian lawmakers of whether to support their NATO bids.

Finland’s 200-seat Parliament is set to approve legislation on Wednesday to allow the country to join NATO.

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NATO chief: membership for Finland, Sweden ‘top priority’