US says ‘now is the time’ for Sweden to join NATO and for Turkey to get new F-16s

OSLO, Norway (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that “the time has come” for Turkey to drop its objections to Sweden joining NATO, but said the The Biden administration also believed that Turkey should receive upgraded F-16 fighters “as soon as possible.”

Blinken argued that the administration did not link the two issues, but acknowledged that some U.S. lawmakers did. President Joe Biden implicitly linked the two issues in a phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

“I spoke to Erdogan and he still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we want a deal with Sweden. So let’s go,” Biden said.

Still, Blinken insisted the two issues were separate. However, he stressed that completing both would significantly strengthen European security.

“Both are vital, in our view, for European security,” Blinken told reporters at a joint press conference in the northern Swedish town of Lulea with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. “We believe both need to move forward as quickly as possible; i.e. Sweden joining and advancing the F-16 package more broadly.

“We believe the time is right,” Blinken said. He declined to predict when Turkey and Hungary, the only other NATO members yet to ratify Sweden’s membership, would grant their approval.

But, he said, “we have no doubt that it can be, it should be, and we expect it to be” completed by the time the alliance leaders meet in Vilnius. , in Lithuania, in July during an annual summit.

Fresh off a strong re-election this weekend, Erdogan may be willing to assuage his objections to Sweden’s membership. Erdogan accuses Sweden of being too soft on groups Ankara sees as terrorists, and a series of Koran-burning protests in Stockholm have angered his religious support base, making his tough stance even more popular.

Kristersson said the two sides had been in contact since Sunday’s vote and expressed no hesitation in talking about the benefits Sweden would bring to NATO “when we join the alliance”.

Blinken is in Sweden to attend a meeting of the US-EU Trade and Technology Council and will travel to Oslo, Norway on Wednesday for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, before to travel to newly admitted alliance member Finland on Friday.

Speaking in Oslo ahead of the meeting of foreign ministers, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the aim was to bring Sweden into the group before the leaders’ summit in July.

“There are no guarantees, but it is entirely possible to reach a solution and allow the decision on full Swedish membership by the Vilnius summit,” Stoltenberg said.

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