Senior US government spokespeople have said Turkey should approve Sweden’s bid for NATO membership prior to an upcoming summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 11-12, the Voice of America’s (VOA) Turkish Service reported on Wednesday.
The statements came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Wednesday rebuffed growing international pressure on Ankara, saying that in order for Turkey to meet Sweden’s expectations, first of all, “Sweden must do its part.”
Although Western officials had hoped Erdoğan would soften his position on the diplomatically charged issue after he secured a hard-fought re-election last month, the president’s comments signaled no major shift on Sweden’s NATO admission.
Matthew Miller, the new spokesperson for the US Department of State, responded to a question about Erdoğan’s comments during a press briefing on Wednesday.
He said that what they heard in the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Oslo two weeks ago was the “near-universal opinion” that it’s time for Sweden’s accession to NATO to be approved.
“Sweden has taken a number of steps to satisfy the concerns that Turkey raised. … It’s time for Sweden’s accession to be approved. … And I think it’s important to note that this is not just the United States making this case, it’s not just Sweden making its case, but it is the other members of NATO making it as well,” Miller said.
He further stated that they would continue to publicly advocate for the approval of Sweden’s accession to NATO, while simultaneously making their case directly to Turkey.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was also asked during a press briefing on Wednesday whether there’s concern over Sweden’s accession to NATO being delayed ahead of the summit, with Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho halting a US arms sale to Hungary as punishment over its refusal to approve Sweden’s application.
Jean-Pierre said they encourage Turkey to approve Sweden’s application for NATO membership “without delay,” highlighting that Sweden has fulfilled its commitments as outlined in the trilateral memorandum of agreement signed with Finland and Turkey during last year’s NATO Summit.
In response to a question regarding the possibility the issue will not be sorted out before the July summit, she said they are still “hopeful” that Turkey will ratify Sweden’s NATO membership but “don’t have a timeline to share.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said it was “still possible” to have an agreement in place by the July summit and that he’s still working for that to happen but that he “cannot guarantee it.”
Saying that Swedish authorities have changed the constitution, strengthened the counterterrorism laws and lifted restrictions on exports of arms to Turkey, Stoltenberg said he welcomes the fact that Sweden sits down with Turkey and looks into how they can “ensure that actually more is delivered based on what is already agreed.”
Sweden and its Nordic neighbor Finland ended decades of military non-alignment and applied to join the US-led defense bloc in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Turkey and fellow NATO member Hungary ratified Finland’s membership this year.
But both countries’ parliaments have yet to approve Sweden’s entry.
Unanimous backing is needed for new countries to secure the guarantees afforded by the world’s most powerful defense alliance.