Lulea [Sweden], May 31 (ANI): The United States has urged Turkey to approve Sweden's NATO membership, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken declaring that "the time is now" for the northern European country to join the alliance, Al Jazeera reported.
On Tuesday, the senior US diplomat said Sweden has been eligible to join NATO "from day one" and has made considerable steps to address Turkey's "legitimate" security concerns. He was speaking alongside Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.
Blinken told reporters in the northern Swedish city of Lulea, "From the perspective of the United States, the time is now to finalise Sweden's accession."Following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, Sweden and neighbouring Finland began seeking NATO membership. The alliance is commanded by the United States, and has a collective defence pact, meaning an attack on one member is considered an attack on all.
To allow new countries into NATO, all members must agree. Finland joined the alliance officially last month, while Sweden's application is still pending, according to Al Jazeera.
Hungary and Turkey have yet to ratify Sweden's accession, though Ankara is considered as the primary hurdle. Turkey has accused Sweden of harbouring members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which it regards as a "terrorist" group.
Turkey, Sweden, and Finland signed a so-called trilateral memorandum in June of last year to address Ankara's concerns about banned armed organisations.
Turkey, on the other hand, claims that Sweden has not met all of its commitments under the agreement. An Islamophobic Quran-burning protest in Stockholm in January, which the government condemned, further soured relations between the two countries, as per Al Jazeera.
"Turkey has raised important and legitimate concerns. Sweden and Finland both addressed those concerns. And so, the time to move forward is now. We'd like to see that happen before the Vilnius summit," said Blinken on Tuesday, referring to a NATO meeting in the Lithuanian capital in July.
US President Joe Biden stated earlier this week that he addressed Sweden's NATO bid with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was re-elected on Sunday. They also discussed Turkey's push to purchase F-16 combat jets.
"I congratulate 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," the US President told reporters on Monday.
Blinken on Tuesday also said that the Biden government does not see the USD 20bn F-16 deal and Sweden's NATO bid as connected, but he warned that some US lawmakers do, as per Al Jazeera.
He said, "Some members of Congress .... are linking Sweden's accession to NATO to the moving forwards on the F-16s. Congress is a fully equal and independent branch of government," adding, "Their voice and their vote in any such decisions, of course, is critical."Although Congress has the authority to veto arms transactions approved by the administration, it has never successfully blocked weapon sales to foreign countries.
Blinken on Tuesday also stressed that regardless of Sweden's NATO position, the US will support Swedish security.
He said, "We and our allies are both committed to and well-positioned to help Sweden address its security needs, irrespective of whether accession happens tomorrow or in two weeks or in a few weeks after that."Swedish Prime Minister Kristersson said that his country is moving ahead with fulfilling its pledges to its "Turkish friends" in accordance with the trilateral memorandum.
He said, "We have always recognised the fact that every NATO ally has to make its own decision, and only Turkey can make Turkey's decisions, and we fully respect that," Al Jazeera reported. (ANI)