WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden showed support for Sweden’s entry into NATO in talks with Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Wednesday as doubts linger that Turkey will lift its opposition in time for the military alliance’s summit next week.
Biden leaves on Sunday on a three-nation trip centered around the summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where alliance members hope to welcome Sweden as its newest member.
Biden, seated next to Kristersson in the Oval Office with reporters present, said he was “anxiously looking forward to your membership” in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Alliance.)
Kristersson said after the meeting that the two leaders agreed that the Vilnius meeting was a “natural time” to finalize the Nordic country’s bid to join the alliance.
“But we both also know that only Turkey can make Turkish decisions,” Kristersson told reporters at the Swedish embassy in Washington.
Biden “praised Sweden’s role as a regional security provider and underscored his commitment to welcoming Sweden to NATO as soon as possible,” according to a White House readout of their conversation.
Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year, ditching long-held policies of military non-alignment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Applications for membership must be approved by all NATO members. Turkey and Hungary have yet to clear Sweden’s bid. Finland was approved in April.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says Stockholm harbors members of militant groups, namely supporters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Sweden who he accuses of organizing demonstrations and financing terrorist groups.
The United States and its allies have been working to overcome Turkey’s opposition. Sweden has said it has fulfilled the demands agreed upon in negotiations with Turkey, including introducing a new bill that makes being a member of a terrorist organization illegal, but Erdogan has yet to signal he is ready to ratify Sweden’s application.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday spoke to Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and encouraged Turkey’s support for Sweden to join the NATO military alliance, the State Department said in a statement.
“Secretary Blinken stressed the importance of NATO unity in such a critical time and encouraged Türkiye’s support for Sweden to join the NATO Alliance now,” the State Department said.
Sweden, Turkey and NATO will meet in Brussels on Thursday to try to find a solution before the July 11-12 summit.
Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; additional reporting by Johan Ahlander and Niklas Pollard in Stockholm and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles Editing by Alistair Bell, Grant McCool and David Gregorio