The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the "time is now" to finalise Sweden's accession to NATO.
While both Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO together on 18 May 2022, some two and a half months after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, Sweden's bid has been held up by objections from Hungary and Turkey. Finland on the other hand became the 31st member of the military alliance on 4 April 2023.
Speaking at a press conference in the northern Swedish city of Luleå alongside Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Tuesday (30 May), Blinken added that Sweden has "taken very significant steps to address very legitimate concerns, and I think in terms of its own qualifications for membership, from day one it was qualified precisely because it’s been such a long-time partner for NATO; of course, the European Union; and with values that are fundamentally the same."
Turkey has accused Sweden of being soft on groups that they perceive as terror organisations or consider existential threats, including Kurdish groups such as the PKK, and the Syrian Kurdish militia group, the YPG, and its political branch, the PYD.
In an attempt to address Turkey's concerns and to persuade Ankara to approve Sweden's bid to join NATO, at the start of May Sweden tightened anti-terrorism laws to include a prison term of up to four years for individuals convicted of participating in an extremist organisation in a way that is intended to promote, strengthen or support the group.
The bill, which is due to enter into force on 1 June, also makes it illegal to finance, recruit for or publicly encourage a terrorist organisation, as well as travelling abroad with the intention of joining such a group.
EU-US Trade and Technology Council
Blinken was in northern Sweden for the fourth EU-US Trade and Technology Council meeting, which was taking place on 30-31 May.
The Trade and Technology Council was launched in June 2021 and is the main forum for political coordination between the US and the EU on important global trade, economic, and technological issues. Meetings have previously been held in Pittsburg, Paris, and Washington D.C.
It was also being held during the Swedish presidency of the Council of the EU, which it took over in January 2023.
Sweden and Turkey to resume talks "soon", NATO foreign ministers to meet in Oslo
The Turkish presidential election, which took place in May and was won by the incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had complicated Swedish negotiations with Ankara over NATO membership. However, on Monday (29 May), the Swedish Foreign Ministry said that Stockholm and Ankara would resume discussions on Swedish membership of NATO "soon".
NATO foreign ministers are also due to have an informal meeting in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, on Wednesday and Thursday (31 May-1 June). The meeting will be chaired by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and the topic of Sweden's accession to NATO is expected to be high on the agenda.
source: commonspace.eu with agencies