Washington, DC – US President Joe Biden has said he is confident that Sweden will join NATO “as soon as possible”, despite Turkey and Hungary continuing to block the northern European country’s accession to the alliance.
Speaking at a United States Air Force Academy graduation ceremony on Thursday, Biden praised NATO’s unity amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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“NATO is more energised and more united than it’s been in decades. It’s now even stronger with the accession of our newest ally, Finland – and soon Sweden – to the alliance, as soon as possible. It will happen. I promise you,” the US president said.
His remarks come just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Turkey to approve Sweden’s bid to become a NATO member.
“From the perspective of the United States, the time is now to finalise Sweden’s accession,” Blinken told reporters in the northern Swedish city of Lulea on Tuesday.
The top US diplomat also voiced hope that the process would be completed before a NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in July.
NATO countries need to ratify new members. The US-led bloc has a collective defence pact – known as Article 5 – that stipulates that an attack on one NATO member-state is an attack on the entire alliance.
Sweden and neighbouring Finland began seeking NATO membership last year after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Finland officially joined the alliance in April, but Sweden’s application is still pending.
Hungary and Turkey have yet to approve Sweden’s accession, but Ankara is seen as the main obstacle. Turkey has accused Sweden of providing a safe haven to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a “terrorist” group.
Sweden says it is addressing Turkey’s concerns in accordance with a trilateral memorandum signed by the two countries as well as Finland last year.
On Thursday, as the foreign ministers of NATO member-states held talks in Norway, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted at his Swedish counterpart: “Fulfill your commitments arising from Trilateral Memorandum & take concrete steps in the fight against terrorism. The rest will follow.”
Biden said earlier this week that he raised the issue in a phone call with newly re-elected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“I congratulated Erdogan. He still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden, so let’s get that done,” Biden told reporters on Monday, referring to a push by Ankara to finalise a $20bn deal for US-made F-16 fighter jets.
Biden did not mention Turkey when he raised Sweden’s NATO bid on Thursday. But he stressed that the alliance continues to stand together in response to the invasion of Ukraine, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin thought NATO would “crack”.
The US president also renewed a commitment to backing Ukraine against the invasion. Washington has provided billions of dollars in humanitarian and military aid to Kyiv since the war started last year.
“The United States has rallied the world to stand strong with Ukraine and defend the values that the American people hold so dear – freedom, sovereignty, democracy, simple dignity,” Biden said.
“The American people’s support for Ukraine will not waver.”
A crystal clear message to our Swedish Friends!
Fulfill your commitments arising from Trilateral Memorandum & take concrete steps in the fight against terrorism.
The rest will follow. https://t.co/PS1gpSMyA0
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) June 1, 2023