COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CN) — NATO will start its process of incorporating Sweden and Finland into the military alliance after it officially invited both countries to join, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a press conference in Madrid on Wednesday.
”Today, NATO leaders took the historic decision to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO. The agreement concluded last night by Turkey, Finland and Sweden paved the way for this decision,” Stoltenberg said. “I would like to thank Turkey, Finland and Sweden for accepting my invitation to engage in negotiations to find a united way forward.”
The statement comes less than 24 hours after all three countries signed a trilateral memorandum on Tuesday, leading Turkey to drop its veto, which could have prevented the Nordic countries from joining NATO.
Turkey claims that Sweden and Finland are housing what it calls “terrorist suspects” with connections to Kurdish militant groups such as the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the People's Defense Units (YPG).
Thirty-three alleged terrorists are expected to be delivered to Turkey after the country formally vouches for Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO memberships, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said before the NATO summit in Madrid taking place this week.
“We are seeking the extradition of terrorists from the countries concerned according to the framework from the new agreement,” Turkish Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag reportedly told the Russian TV outlet NTV.
All three countries along with NATO negotiated the security deal up until the memorandum was signed on Tuesday. During these negotiations, Stoltenberg said that Turkey's concerns about terrorists are legitimate.
It is unclear if Sweden and Finland will grant Turkey's request to extradite all 33 terror suspects.
Arriving at Wednesday’s NATO summit in Madrid, Stoltenberg said that the alliance would undergo a “fundamental change,” including more advanced forces and weapons being employed on the eastern flank, according to Norwegian news agency NTB.
With Finland joining NATO, the alliance will increase its land border with Russia by about 800 miles.
The next step for Sweden and Finland is to negotiate their terms with NATO. All 30 members will then vote to accept the applicants into the alliance.
Both countries formally submitted their membership applications last month. Stoltenberg said he expects speedy progress to continue, calling it the “fastest accession process ever.”