NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described Finland's request to join the alliance as a historic step, stressing his efforts to address Turkey's "legitimate" concerns, while NATO forces continue their maneuvers in Poland.

In a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto on Sunday, Stoltenberg said that Finland's request to join the alliance is a historic step, stressing that its membership will enhance the common security of the alliance countries.

Stoltenberg - from the Finnish city of Natalie - added that Turkey is a vital ally, and plays a key role in supporting Ukraine and exporting Ukrainian wheat, and therefore efforts are being made to address its legitimate concerns, because they are concerns about terrorism and arms exports, he said.

As Stoltenberg said, "We must remember and understand that no member of NATO has been subjected to more terrorist attacks than Turkey."

"I welcome the clear message from Finland and Sweden that they are ready to discuss these issues," he added.

Stoltenberg said that the NATO summit to be held in Madrid later this month "will never be a deadline" for Finland and Sweden to join.

In response to a question about any progress in the negotiations with Turkey, the Finnish president said, "Progress can be thought of as opening channels of dialogue and continuing talks with Turkey."

Niinisto added that his country does not have a different attitude towards Turkey's concerns than other NATO countries, and that he is having difficulty understanding why his country's position is interpreted differently.

Niinisto confirmed that he and Stoltenberg discussed the war in Ukraine as a problem for all Europeans and a source of global concern.

After the outbreak of Russia's war on Ukraine, Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO last month, but faced opposition from Turkey, which accused them of supporting and harboring militants from the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and other terrorist groups.

NATO expansion requires the approval of all 30 member states, and Sweden and Finland say they condemn terrorism and are open to dialogue.

A Swedish soldier on a military boat during NATO exercises in the Stockholm archipelago (Getty)

NATO maneuvers

On the other hand, NATO forces are continuing live-fire air defense exercises in Poland and Sweden to test their readiness to respond to aircraft, drone and missile attacks.

More than 45 naval units, more than 75 aircraft, and nearly 7,000 soldiers from 17 countries, including Sweden and Finland, participated in the exercises, in which real missiles were used targeting drones over the Baltic Sea.

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