Italy strongly backs Finland, Sweden bids to join NATO - PM

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Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi welcomes Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin at Palazzo Chigi in Rome, Italy, May 18, 2022. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

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ROME, May 18 (Reuters) - Rome strongly supports Finland's and Sweden's application to join NATO and is willing to speed up any internal procedures for the two countries to join the alliance as soon as possible, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Wednesday.

"The application for NATO membership is a clear response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the threat it poses to peace in Europe, to our collective security," Draghi told reporters after a meeting with Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin in Rome.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance on Wednesday, a decision spurred by Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. The two states' accession process faces objections from Turkey. read more

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Marin told reporters a fast ratification of membership would be the "best security guarantee for Finland and for Sweden at this stage".

With the applications now formally submitted, the Nordic countries and their backers face uncertain months where any resistance to their bids needs to be overcome, with all 30 of NATO's members needing to approve the enlargement.

Italy also pledged to support Finland during the time required for it to effectively become a member of the alliance.

"Like many other NATO and EU countries, we will be involved in helping to ensure Finland's security in the transition period, what this entails we will see on the spot," Draghi said, adding Europe must build a defence system complementary to NATO's.

"This is the moment of choices and we want the European Union to choose to be a protagonist".

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Reporting by Angelo Amante in Rome and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki, editing by William Maclean

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