US President Joe Biden has told Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson he is ‘looking forward’ to the country’s stalled NATO bid gaining final approval, amid doubts that Turkey will withdraw its opposition to time for a major summit next week.
Speaking in the Oval Office on Wednesday, Biden said he wanted to reiterate that he “fully supports Sweden’s membership in NATO” and that he “looks forward” to the ratification of the bid.
Kristersson thanked the US president for maintaining ‘transatlantic unity’ during the upheaval caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and hailed Biden’s ‘strong support’ for Sweden’s NATO bid, which is blocked by Turkey and Hungary.
After his meeting with the US president, Kristersson said he and Biden agreed that “the Vilnius meeting in a week is definitely the right time for Sweden to come in, but only Turkey can make Turkey’s decisions. “.
The Oval Office meeting kicks off a series of diplomatic events for Biden centered on NATO.
He leaves on Sunday for a one-day trip to Britain, a close ally, then attends the NATO summit in Vilnius and ends with a stopover in the alliance’s newest member, Finland.
Finland and Sweden have both abandoned formal neutrality to seek NATO entry in response to Russia’s 2022 invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Biden views the bloc’s expansion and its colossal efforts to arming and supporting Ukrainian forces as a strategic defeat for Moscow – and its greatest diplomatic achievement.
But the expansion of NATO requires unanimous ratification by the 31 existing members.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not say whether Biden plans to contact his Turkish and Hungarian counterparts directly ahead of the summit.
“He was pretty, pretty unwavering” about the need to approve the request, Jean-Pierre said. “Sweden is a strong and capable defense partner that shares NATO values.”
As well as discussing efforts to bolster Kiev during its tough counteroffensive to oust Russian troops occupying swathes of eastern and southern Ukraine, the two leaders also discussed transatlantic coordination on China. , climate change and emerging technologies.
Western officials had hoped to officially welcome Sweden to the bloc ahead of next Tuesday’s summit.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, however, has frustrated Western leaders by linking the endorsement of Sweden’s candidacy to demands that Stockholm crack down on members of opposition Kurdish movements, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). , which Turkey describes as a terrorist group.
Sweden says it has met those demands, but another flashpoint recently emerged after a protest outside a Stockholm mosque in which an Iraqi set pages of the Koran on fire.
On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan dismissed the idea of making the NATO summit a deadline, saying “we never approve of using time pressure as a method”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Fidan on Wednesday, encouraging Turkey to support Sweden, the State Department said in a statement.
“Secretary Blinken underscored the importance of NATO unity at such a critical time and encouraged Turkey’s support for Sweden to join the NATO Alliance now.” he declared.
Hungary has indicated that it will follow Turkey’s lead in the dispute. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Tuesday he had held regular consultations with Fidan about Sweden.
The best diplomats from Turkey and Sweden will meet on Thursday at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
The diplomatic activity comes as Ukraine is in the early stages of a long-promised push to try to liberate Russian-occupied territories.
The Biden administration hopes the success of this offensive will bolster public opinion ahead of the 2024 presidential election, in which generous US aid to Ukraine could become a contentious issue.
With Agence France-Presse and Reuters