ISTANBUL/WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden expressed a desire to see Sweden join NATO “as soon as possible” in a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in which they discussed Sweden’s bid to become a member of the Western alliance, the White House said on Sunday.
Turkiye, along with Hungary, has been a stumbling block to Sweden’s bid, which requires unanimous approval by all NATO members.
Erdogan told Biden that Stockholm has taken steps in the right direction for Ankara to ratify its bid, referring to an anti-terrorism law, but said these steps were not useful as Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) supporters continued to hold demonstrations in Sweden, the Turkish presidency’s communications directorate said separately on Sunday.
Biden “conveyed his desire to welcome Sweden into NATO as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement.
The leaders agreed to meet face-to-face in Vilnius, Lithuania, at an upcoming NATO summit and discuss bilateral relations and regional issues in detail, the Turkish presidency also said.
On Thursday, Sweden failed to convince Turkiye to lift its block on Stockholm’s path to NATO membership in a foreign minister-level meeting, as Ankara requested more action in the fight against terrorism.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he would convene a meeting between Erdogan and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Vilnius on Monday.
Kristersson will hope to convince Erdogan to lift Turkiye’s objections to Sweden becoming the 32nd member of the US-led defense organization.
Erdogan’s office said it was “not correct” to link Turkiye’s desire to acquire US fighter jets, which need congressional approval, with Sweden’s membership drive.
Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year, abandoning policies of military non-alignment that had lasted through the decades of the Cold War in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden himself linked the two issues in a call he placed to Erdogan after the Turkish leader’s May 28 re-election.
Erdogan “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 in a press conference after the call.
Erdogan also reaffirmed his longstanding position Sunday that Sweden still needed to crack down harder on suspected Kurdish militants to win Turkiye’s support.
“Sweden has taken some steps in the right direction by making changes to its anti-terrorism legislation,” the statement quoted him telling Biden.
But Erdogan repeated that Sweden’s decision to allow pro-Kurdish groups to stage demonstrations in Stockholm “nullifies” these steps.