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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - STOCKHOLM — The United States has urged Turkey to approve Sweden’s accession into NATO, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that “the time is now” for the northern European country to join the alliance.
Speaking alongside Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Tuesday, the top US diplomat said Sweden has been qualified to join NATO “from day one” and has taken significant steps to address Turkey’s “legitimate” security concerns.
“From the perspective of the United States, the time is now to finalize Sweden’s accession,” Blinken told reporters in the northern Swedish city of Lulea.
Sweden and neighboring Finland started seeking NATO membership last year after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The US-led alliance has a collective defense pact, meaning an attack on one member is considered an attack on all.
All members of NATO have to agree to allow new countries into the bloc. Finland officially joined the alliance last month, but Sweden’s application is still pending.
Hungary and Turkey have not ratified Sweden’s accession, though Ankara is seen as the main hurdle. Turkey has accused Sweden of providing a safe haven to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a “terrorist” group.
Blinken also rejected the suggestion that the Biden administration was linking Turkey’s approval of Sweden’s NATO accession to the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Ankara, although he said the US Congress was doing so. A day before, the US president also alluded to a link.
Blinken said Washington was going to continue to work to complete Sweden’s accession in time for a mid-July NATO summit that will bring together alliance heads of state.
“We believe the time is now and there’s no reason for not moving forward,” Blinken said. “Turkey has raised important and legitimate concerns. Sweden and Finland both addressed those concerns.”
“We look forward to this process being completed in the weeks ahead. We have no doubt that it can be, and it should be and we expect it to be,” he said.
Blinken also reiterated to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday his belief that Sweden is ready to join the alliance now, according to a State Department read-out of a phone call between the two.
“We are in constant contact with our Turkish counterparts on this specific issue,” said Swedish Prime Minister Kristersson.
Sweden is fulfilling “the very final part” of a memorandum of measures with a new piece of legislation on counter-terrorism due to come into force on June 1, he said. “We have done what we have told our Turkish friends.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Turkey called on Sweden to prosecute those responsible for projecting the flag of an outlawed group onto the parliament building in Stockholm on the day of Turkish elections that extended President Tayyip Erdogan’s rule.
Turkey has sought to buy $20 billion worth of F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits from the United States. But the sale has been stalled due to objections from the US Congress over Ankara’s refusal to green-light the NATO enlargement, its human rights record, and its Syria policy. The Biden administration has repeatedly said it supports the sale.
On Monday, Erdogan repeated Turkey’s desire to buy the jets, Biden told reporters after a call with the Turkish president, adding that he told him Washington wanted to see Sweden’s NATO accession approved.
Biden’s comments appeared supportive of what many observers said was a quid pro quo between the two issues. But on Tuesday, Blinken maintained that the administration did not see the issues as linked. “While we are not linking the two issues — when I say we I mean the Biden administration — some members of Congress are,” Blinken said.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also told reporters that approving Sweden’s accession to NATO was “not a condition” for selling the F-16s to Turkey, but said Congress had an important role in arms sales.
A bipartisan group of senators in a February letter to Biden said Turkey’s failure to ratify the accession protocols for Sweden and Finland, which was still waiting at the time, would “call into question this pending sale” of the F-16s. — Agencies
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