Biden says Finland, Sweden should be accepted into NATO

President Joe Biden accompanied by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Biden on Thursday offered full-throated support for Finland’s and Sweden’s applications to join NATO, arguing that the addition of the two nations would strengthen the alliance.  

“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries, and strong and transparent economies, and a strong and moral sense of what is right,” Biden said following a meeting at the White House with the leaders of both countries. “They meet every NATO requirement and then some.” 

“Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” the president said, speaking from the Rose Garden. “And a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America’s security.” 

Biden sought to project confidence that both countries would be accepted into the alliance, despite vocal objections from Turkey, which is also a NATO member.

Without mentioning Turkey during his prepared remarks, Biden called on the Senate to approve the countries’ NATO membership “once the perspectives of all allies are addressed and NATO adopts the accession protocols.” 

In the U.S., the Senate must approve any new amended NATO treaty. Biden said his administration on Thursday would submit reports on NATO accession for both countries to Congress. There is expected to be broad bipartisan support in Congress for adding both countries to the alliance. 

Biden’s meeting Thursday with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson was scheduled earlier this week and took place just before Biden was scheduled to depart for a trip to Asia, underscoring the gravity of the moment. Both countries have sought to quickly join NATO amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.  

The formal requests to join NATO were submitted on Wednesday. 

Turkey’s objections to the new members, however, has spawned a level of uncertainty about whether those requests will ultimately be successful. All 30 existing members of NATO need to sign off on new countries seeking to join the alliance. 

“We have told our relevant friends we would say ‘no’ to Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO, and we will continue on our path like this,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Turkish youth in a video posted Thursday morning, according to The Associated Press.  

Turkey’s objection stems from accusations that both countries harbor members of the Kurdistan’s Workers Party, a separatist group that is also known as the PKK. The group is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey and the U.S.

Erdoğan has previously said the two countries “lack a clear stance against terrorism” and accused Sweden of being a “nesting ground for terrorist organizations.”

Both Niinistö and Andersson said Thursday that their countries were working directly to address Turkey’s concerns. 

“As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey’s security just as Turkey will commit to our security,” Niinistö said in remarks that followed Biden’s, directly appealing to Ankara. “We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it. We are open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have concerning our membership in an open and constructive manner.”

While the U.S. support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO was already clear before Thursday, Biden’s Rose Garden event nevertheless made a strong statement about the administration’s backing for expanding the alliance to include the two Nordic countries. 

Biden told the leaders that they have the “full, total, complete backing of the United States of America.” 

Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, have also been engaging with their Turkish counterparts. 

The White House has expressed confidence about the membership applications ultimately succeeding but has offered few clues about what the U.S. is prepared to do to make that happen.  

“I expect that NATO will speak with one voice in support of Finland and Sweden at the end of the day,” Sullivan told reporters at a briefing Wednesday.

Updated at 11:50 a.m.

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