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Blinken urges Turkey to immediately approve Sweden's NATO accession

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday urged Turkey to immediately finalize Sweden's accession to NATO, saying the Nordic country had already taken significant steps to address Ankara's objections to its membership.

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 U.S. Congress was doing so. A day before, the U.S. president also alluded to a link.

Speaking at a joint press conference with the Swedish prime minister in Lulea, northern Sweden, 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.

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership last year, ditching long-held policies of military non-alignment following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Bids for membership must be approved by all NATO members but Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve Sweden's bid.

Turkey ratified Finland's NATO accession in March, but says Sweden harbors members of militant groups it considers terrorists.

"We are in constant contact with our Turkish counterparts on this specific issue," said Swedish Prime Minister Ulf 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 U.S. 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.

"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.

© Thomson Reuters 2023.