NATO does not plan nuclear arms or bases in Finland, PM tells paper

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FILE PHOTO: Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin speaks at a joint news conference

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The NATO alliance has not expressed any interest in placing nuclear weapons or permanent bases in Finland, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told an Italian newspaper in an interview published on Thursday during a visit to Rome.

"There isn't even interest (within NATO) to put nuclear weapons or bases in Finland," Marin told daily Corriere della Sera, her office said.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance on Wednesday, a decision spurred by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but face objections from Turkey to an accession process that was originally expected to be relatively rapid.

Marin, on a visit in Rome to meet with her Italian counterpart Mario Draghi, said she believed the matter could be solved through dialogue.

"I think at this stage it is important to stay calm, to have discussions with Turkey and all other member countries, answering questions that may exist and correcting any misunderstandings," Marin told the newspaper.

Marin also said the question of NATO deploying nuclear weapons or opening bases in Finland was not part of Helsinki's membership negotiations with the Western military alliance.

Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of neighbouring Sweden, which like Finland is applying for NATO membership, has said her country did not want permanent NATO bases or nuclear weapons on its territory.

Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has expressed unexpected opposition to Finnish and Swedish memberships, accusing the Nordic neighbours of harbouring individuals linked to groups it considers terrorist. Ankara also cited the countries' arms export embargoes on Turkey after its Syria incursion in 2019.

Finland's President Sauli Niinisto and the Swedish Prime Minister Andersson are expected to meet the U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington later on Thursday.

Italy 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, Draghi said on Wednesday after meeting with Marin.

(This story corrects throughout to make clear that Finnish PM said NATO - rather than Finland itself - had no interest in placing nuclear weapons or bases in Finland)

(Reporting by Anne Kauranen in Helsinki and Maria Pia Quaglia Regondi in Milan,; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)