OSLO, Norway — NATO on Thursday ramped up pressure on member nation Turkey to drop its objections to Sweden's membership as the military organization seeks to deal with the issue by the time U.S. President Joe Biden and his counterparts meet next month.
The 31-member alliance is also looking at boosting Ukraine’s non-member status in NATO and preparing a framework for security commitments that it can offer once the war with Russia is over.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said NATO wants to bring Sweden into the fold by the time allied leaders meet in Lithuania on July 11-12. The allies also hope to make progress on long-term funding and the security plan for Ukraine at the same event, Stoletenberg said.
He said the allies continue to agree that Ukraine will become a NATO member but that in the meantime the alliance should provide it with security commitments and substantial new funding.
“Our focus today was on how we can bring Ukraine closer to NATO where it belongs,” he said.
“No one knows when the war will end, but we must ensure that when it does we have credible arrangements in place to guarantee Ukraine’s security in the future and break Russia’s cycle of aggression,” Stoltenberg said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the allies were “focused on helping Ukraine to build up its medium- and long-term security capacity so that if and when the current aggression settles, Ukraine has the full capacity to deter future aggression."
“NATO has a role in that in terms of the work it can do to bring Ukraine up to NATO standards," he said. He did not elaborate.
Fearing they might be targeted by Moscow after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella. Finland became NATO’s 31st member country in April.
NATO must agree unanimously for countries to join. Turkey’s government accuses Sweden of being too lenient on terrorist organizations and security threats, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.
Hungary has also delayed its approval, but the reasons why have not been made publicly clear.
Stoltenberg said that he would travel to Ankara “in the near future to continue to address how we can ensure the fastest possible accession of Sweden.” He said his and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's staffs were working on dates for the trip.
“My message is that Sweden has delivered, and the time has come to ratify Sweden,” he told reporters at the conclusion of two days of informal talks between alliance foreign ministers to prepare for the summit in Lithuania.
Others echoed his comments.
“It’s time for Sweden to join now,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt told reporters.
“I’m confident that also Hungary will ratify the accession protocol,” Stoltenberg said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “it is essential that we can finally welcome Sweden as the 32nd member.” She stressed that the Swedish government has Berlin’s “full support.”
Sweden’s foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said that “it is time for Turkey and Hungary to start the ratification of the Swedish membership to NATO.” He said that “everything (that) bars Sweden joining NATO will be seen as wine for (Russian president Vladimir) Putin.”
For months, Sweden, Finland and Turkey held talks to try to address Ankara’s concerns. Billström said he expected things to be made clear at a new meeting of this “permanent joint mechanism” in coming weeks.
He noted that as of Thursday, Sweden had tightened its anti-terrorism laws. It is now it illegal to finance, recruit for or publicly encourage “a terrorist organization,” or to travel abroad with the intention of joining such groups.
The time may be ripe for movement. Sweden’s membership became embroiled in campaigning for elections in Turkey, which Erdogan won on Sunday. Erdogan has also been seeking upgraded U.S. fighter jets, and Washington signaled this week that they might be delivered.
“I spoke to Erdogan and 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 said Monday.
On Tuesday, Blinken insisted that the issues of Sweden’s membership and the fighter jets were distinct. However, he stressed that the completion of both would dramatically strengthen European security.
“Both of these are vital, in our judgement, to European security,” Blinken told reporters. “We believe that both should go forward as quickly as possible; that is to say Sweden’s accession and moving forward on the F-16 package more broadly.”
Cook reported from Brussels. David Keyton in Oslo, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.