US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Wednesday that he is “looking forward” to Sweden’s stalled NATO membership bid winning final approval, as the Western alliance prepares for next week’s summit.
Speaking in the Oval Office, Biden said he wanted to reiterate that he “fully, fully supports Sweden’s membership in NATO.”
“The bottom line is simple: Sweden is going to make our alliance stronger,” Biden said, adding he was “anxiously looking forward” to the bid being ratified.
Kristersson thanked the US president for his leadership in maintaining “transatlantic unity” during the upheaval sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He also praised Biden’s “strong support” for Sweden’s NATO bid, which is being held up by Türkiye and Hungary.
“We also do think that we have things to contribute” for NATO security, the prime minister added.
The Oval Office meeting kicked off a string of diplomatic events for Biden centered on NATO.
He leaves Sunday for a one-day trip to close ally Britain, then attends the annual NATO summit in Vilnius and finishes up with a stop in the alliance’s newest member Finland.
Both Finland and Sweden dropped their official neutrality to request NATO entry in response to Russia’s 2022 invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Biden sees the bloc’s expansion and its mammoth efforts to arm and support Ukraine’s forces as a strategic defeat for Moscow — and his own biggest diplomatic achievement.
But expansion of NATO requires unanimous ratification from the existing 31 members.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not say whether Biden planned to reach out directly to his counterparts in Türkiye and Hungary before the summit.
“He’s been pretty, pretty steadfast” on the need to approve the application, she said. “Sweden is a strong, capable defense partner that shares NATO’s values.”
In addition to discussing efforts to bolster Kiev during its difficult counteroffensive to oust Russian troops occupying swaths of Ukraine’s east and south, the two leaders also discussed transatlantic coordination on China, climate change and emerging technologies.
Western officials had hoped to formally welcome Sweden into the bloc before next Tuesday’s summit.
Kristersson said after his meeting that he and Biden had agreed that the “Vilnius meeting in a week is certainly appropriate time for Sweden’s entry, but only Türkiye can take Türkiye’s decisions.”
Sweden says it has met those demands, but Erdoğan returned to the issue Wednesday, saying that while Stockholm had moved “in the right direction” with anti-terror legislation, the organizing of public demonstrations by PKK supporters “nullifies the steps taken.”
Another flashpoint has emerged, over a protest outside a Stockholm mosque where an Iraqi man set fire to pages from the Quran.
On Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan rejected making the NATO summit a deadline, saying “we never approve of the use of time pressure as a method.”
A day later Fidan spoke by phone with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and the top American diplomat “stressed the importance of NATO unity in such a critical time and encouraged Türkiye’s support for Sweden to join the NATO Alliance now,” according to a statement by State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.
Top diplomats from Türkiye and Sweden will meet Thursday at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
The diplomatic activity comes as Ukraine is in the early phases of a long-promised push to try and liberate territories occupied by Russia.
The Biden administration is hoping success in that offensive will buoy public opinion ahead of the 2024 presidential election, where generous US aid to Ukraine may become a contentious issue.