“We’ll be better off when that process is finalized. And so we urge both Turkiye and Hungary, who also has not yet ratified, to ratify their accession as quickly as possible,” Blinken told reporters, using Turkey’s official name. “There is no reason for any further time; Sweden is ready now. … The time is now.”
Blinken spoke alongside Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who said Stockholm had taken numerous steps to address Turkish concerns about Sweden’s handling of individuals whom Ankara views as Kurdish militants. Kristersson pointed to an anti-terror law that is set to take effect June 1, following the passage of an amendment to Sweden’s constitution and the end to an informal embargo on arms sales to Turkey.
While many NATO officials hoped that a quick accession for militarily savvy Finland and Sweden would send a strong signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin as he wages war in Ukraine, the process has dragged on for more than a year, highlighting differences between alliance members and the potential for a few holdouts to hold up widely backed decisions.
Many NATO officials have voiced hope in recent months that Turkey would ratify Sweden’s accession following elections that concluded this week with the reelection of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who overcame a major opposition challenge to win another five-year term. U.S. officials have said they expect Hungary to ratify once Turkey does.
NATO’s future composition will be a key topic when alliance foreign ministers meet this week in neighboring Norway, as the bloc seeks to chart a course for managing what many members view as an acute threat from Russia, and as the United States and others nudge it to put a greater focus on China.
Turkey’s deepening economic and military ties with Russia have been a source of friction with the United States, even though Washington has lauded Erdogan for his role in brokering agreements to export Ukrainian grain and exchange Russian and Ukrainian prisoners.
Blinken and Kristersson spoke in the industrial city of Lulea, where the Swedish leader is hosting U.S. and E.U. officials for talks on trade and technology, a day after President Biden appeared to link Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s NATO membership to a proposed American deal to upgrade Ankara’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets.
“He still wants to work on something on the F-16s,” Biden told reporters of a call he had with Erdogan to congratulate him on his reelection. “I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden, so let’s get that done.”
Asked whether he expected action by Turkey on Sweden’s NATO bid, Biden said: “I raised that issue with him. We’re going to talk more about it next week.”
Blinken said the administration had not connected its advocacy for Sweden’s NATO accession to the potential agreement to sell Turkey dozens of F-16s and modernization kits for Ankara’s existing jets. But he acknowledged that some in the U.S. Congress had made an explicit link, suggesting they would only support the administration’s proposal if Turkey relents on Sweden.
“With regard to Sweden’s accession and the F-16s, these are distinct issues. Both though are vital, in our judgment, to European security,” he said.
But it’s not yet clear what precisely will persuade key lawmakers such as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to drop their opposition to the Biden administration’s proposed F-16 deal. Menendez also has called for Turkey to improve its human rights record and overhaul its dealings with Greece.
Blinken spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday, the State Department said in a statement following his remarks to the media. In the call, Blinken extended congratulations on Erdogan’s reelection and “reiterated his strong belief that Sweden is ready to join the alliance now.”
Even as Blinken demanded strong steps, he also telegraphed understanding of Turkey’s security concerns and said it was right that every NATO member has a chance to weigh in on expanding the alliance.
“Each member is making a solemn commitment to every other that it will join in coming to their defense if they are the victims of aggression,” he said, referring to NATO’s mutual defense clause. “So it’s important that every member have its say in this process.”
Kristersson reinforced his country’s desire to join NATO but stopped short of demanding action.
“We have always recognized the fact that every NATO ally has to make its own decision, and only Turkiye can make Turkish decisions and we fully respect that,” Kristerssen said. “So that’s basically it. And now we wait for them to make a decision.”