Finland hopes for Turkish support for NATO bid soon, considers arms exports

ANKARA, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Finland's defence minister Antti Kaikkonen said the sooner Turkey ratifies its NATO membership bid the better and it would consider granting arms export permits to Turkey on a case by case basis.

In an interview with Reuters after meeting his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar in Ankara, Kaikkonen said he could not foresee a timetable for Turkey's ratification of his country's NATO membership application.

A leading Turkish politician from Turkey's ruling AK party said however the speed of ratification lay in Finland and Sweden's hands and how swiftly they met Turkey's requests.

The Nordic countries both asked to join NATO this year in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but longtime member Turkey refused to endorse their request until a number of demands were met, including taking a tougher stance against Kurdish militants and removing a ban on arms sales.

"In the memorandum of understanding signed in Madrid, it's written that there's no arms embargo (on Turkey) and that is the state of play at the moment. We make decisions on a case by case basis," Kaikkonen said.

Earlier this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Finland must lift an arms embargo on Ankara as a condition to securing support from Turkey.

"There have been some discussions with Finnish industry about exports from Finland to Turkey. There are some preliminary talks. I'd say it would be possible in the near future to have some exports," he added.

Kaikkonen also said Helsinki preferred to join the security alliance alongside Stockholm, not "alone".

"Our clear goal is to join NATO hand in hand (with Sweden), and I think it would be best for NATO as well," he said.

ANKARA "IN NO RUSH"

In a separate interview with Reuters, the head of the Turkish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and ruling AK Party member Akif Cagatay Kilic said Turkey was in "no rush" to ratify the Nordic countries' NATO bids.

"It's all up to Finland and Sweden... when they address our expectations, we will fulfil our duty of ratification. They have our word," Kilic said.

"We expect them to keep their promises. When that happens, our government will submit the ratifications to the Parliament, and we will complete our part swiftly," Kilic said.

NATO makes its decisions by consensus, meaning that the two Nordic nations require the approval of all 30 alliance member states. Only Turkey still stands opposed to their membership, though Hungary has also yet to ratify it.

Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Alexandra Hudson

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