“We’ll be better off when that process is over. We therefore urge Turkey and Hungary, which have not yet ratified, to ratify their accession as soon as possible,” Blinken told reporters, using the official name of Turkey. “There is no reason for any further time; Sweden is ready now. … The time is now.”
Blinken spoke with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who said Stockholm has taken several steps to address Turkish concerns about Sweden’s handling of individuals Ankara views as Kurdish militants. Kristersson pointed to an anti-terrorism law set to take effect on June 1, following the passage of an amendment to Sweden’s constitution and the end an informal embargo on arms sales to Turkey.
While many NATO officials hope the rapid accession for militarily savvy Finland and Sweden will send a strong signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin as he conducts war in Ukraine, the process has lasted more than a year, reflecting differences between alliance members and the potential for some holdouts to have widely supported decisions.
Many NATO officials have expressed hope in recent months that Turkey will ratify Sweden’s accession following elections that ended this week with the re-election of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who overcame a major opposition challenge to win another five-year term. US officials have said they expect Hungary to ratify when Turkey does.
The future composition of NATO will be a key topic when the alliance’s foreign ministers meet this week in neighboring Norway, as the bloc seeks to chart a course for governing what many members view as as a serious threat from Russia, and while the United States and others are urging it to put greater focus on China.
Turkey’s deepening economic and military ties with Russia are a source of friction in the United States, though Washington has praised Erdogan for his role in brokering agreements to export Ukrainian grain and trade Russian and Ukrainian prisoners.
Blinken and Kristersson spoke in the industrial city of Lulea, where the Swedish leader is hosting US and EU 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 deal with America to upgrade Ankara’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets.
“He still wants to do something with the F-16s,” Biden told reporters about a call he made to Erdogan to congratulate him on his re-election. “I told him we want a deal with Sweden, so let’s get it done.”
Asked if he expected Turkey’s action on Sweden’s NATO bid, Biden said: “I raised the issue with him. We’ll talk about it next week.”
Blinken said the administration did not connect its advocacy for Sweden’s NATO accession to the potential deal to sell Turkey dozens of F-16s and modernization kits for existing Ankara jets. But he acknowledged that some in the US Congress had made an implicit link, suggesting they would only support the administration’s proposal if Turkey surrendered to Sweden.
“Regarding the accession of Sweden and the F-16s, these are unique issues. Both are important, in our judgment, to the security of Europe,” he said.
But it is not yet clear what will surely persuade key lawmakers like Sen. Robert Menendez (DN.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to drop their opposition to the Biden administration’s proposed F-16 deal. Menendez also 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 media remarks. In the call, Blinken extended congratulations on Erdogan’s re-election and “reiterated his strong belief that Sweden is ready to join the alliance now.”
Although Blinken called for strong measures, he also telegraphed an understanding of Turkey’s security concerns and said it is right that each NATO member has an opportunity to weigh in on expanding the alliance.
“Each member makes a solemn commitment to each other that it will join in coming to their defense if they are victims of aggression,” he said, referring to NATO’s mutual defense clause. “So it’s important that each member has their own opinion in this process.”
Kristersson reinforced his country’s desire to join NATO but stopped short of demanding action.
“We always recognize the fact that each NATO ally has to make its own decision, and only Turkey can make Turkish decisions and we fully respect that,” Kristersson said. “So it’s like that. And now we will wait for them to decide.”