By Ece Toksabay and Ceyda Caglayan

ANKARA, March 17 (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday Turkey’s parliament would start ratifying Finland’s NATO bid, but not Sweden’s, removing the biggest obstacle to NATO enlargement. Western defense alliance as war rages in Ukraine.

In a speech in Ankara alongside his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto, Erdogan said Helsinki had earned Turkey’s blessing by taking concrete steps to fulfill its promises to crack down on what Ankara considers terrorists and release defense exports.

Ankara will continue discussions with Stockholm on terrorism-related issues and its NATO candidacy will directly depend on the steps taken, he added.

The parliaments of the 30 NATO members must ratify the newcomers. Finland would represent the first enlargement since North Macedonia joined the transatlantic pact in 2020.

Niinisto hailed the decision, calling it “very important” for Finland, which shares a long and distant border with Russia. He added that it was important for neighboring Sweden to also join the alliance.

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO, but met unexpected objections from Turkey, which joined in 1952. (Additional reporting by Essi Lehto in Helsinki and Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; written by Daren Butler; edited in Spanish by Ricardo Figueroa)

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