ISTANBUL (AP) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed support early Saturday for Ukraine joining NATO, saying the war-torn country deserves to join the alliance.
Erdogan made the comment at a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who arrived in Turkey as part of a European tour to rally support for Ukraine's entry into the military alliance after the war with Russia comes to an end.
NATO leaders meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, next week are expected to reaffirm that Ukraine will join their alliance one day.
"There is no doubt that Ukraine deserves NATO membership," Erdogan told reporters,
His support for Ukraine comes as Turkey has been holding off giving its final approval to Sweden joining NATO, saying Stockholm is not effectively cracking down on Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara views as threats to its security.
Sweden, along with Finland, abandoned its decades-long neutrality and applied to join NATO following Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year. Turkey's parliament ratified Finland's membership earlier this year, after Ankara voiced satisfaction with its efforts to address Turkey's security concerns.
Erdogan also said Turkey was working toward extending a Turkish- and U.N.-brokered grain deal that has paved the way for the shipment of more than 30 million tons of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
The deal, which helped temper rising global food prices, is set to expire July 17. Russia has been reluctant to extend the deal, citing obstacles to its own exports of food and fertilizer.
"We are continuing our work on the grain corridor issue. We are working to see how long we can extend it after July 17," Erdogan said.
Zelenskyy accused Russia of obstructing the movement of ships.
"Russia behaves as if it owns the entire Black Sea, as if it is the owner here," said Zelenskyy, making his first trip to Turkey since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Erdogan said Russian President Vladimir Putin would visit Turkey in August, when he hoped to discuss renewal of the Black Sea grain deal as well as a possible prisoner swap.
Turkey has maintained close ties with both Ukraine and Russia, using its relations to both to act as a mediator.