October 4, 2022
Joe Biden hosts NATO hopefuls Sweden, Finland at White House

President Biden on Thursday doubled down on offering U.S. security assurances to Finland and Sweden in his meeting with the two countries’ leaders at the White House, just one day after both nations submitted their formal bids to join NATO.

Analysts say the two countries, which have long resisted formal ties to NATO, are in a particularly vulnerable position as their applications for alliance membership are in the pipeline. Russian President Vladimir Putin has bitterly criticized past expansions by NATO into eastern Europe and has talked of unspecified retaliation against Helsinki and Stockholm for their decision to join the 30-nation transatlantic alliance.

Mr. Biden met with President Sauli Niinisto of Finland and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden at the White House Thursday, just one day after the two countries submitted formal bids to join the alliance, and affirmed the U.S.’s commitment to defend the two nations from aggression while the two Nordic countries’ applications to join the NATO military alliance are under review.

“The president, prime minister and I committed that we’re going to work together to remain vigilant against threats to our shared security and deter and confront any aggression while Finland and Sweden are in the succession process,” Mr. Biden said during his remarks in the Rose Garden after the leaders met.

“Nothing’s going to be missed,” he said. “We’re in once it is moving forward. I really mean it.”

Echoing earlier comments from Mr. Biden, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday that while NATO’s collective defense pledge would not apply to Sweden and Finland until they are full members of the alliance, the U.S. “is prepared to send a very clear message, as are all of our European allies, that we will not tolerate any aggression against Finland or Sweden during this process.”

With his war in Ukraine making little progress in recent weeks, Mr. Putin appeared to temper his standpoint on Monday, however, saying “there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries.”

Both countries will require the endorsement of all 30 current NATO members before joining the alliance.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke separately with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday, with the Turkish diplomat signaling Ankara is willing to discuss its concerns.

Ankara has complained of links between militant Kurdish separatist groups it says are terrorists and Kurdish communities in both Sweden and Finland, as well as military sanctions the two countries imposed on Turkey over its military incursion into neighboring Syria.

“Turkey has been supporting the ‘Open Door’ policy of NATO [on new members] even before this war,” Mr. Cavusoglu said before meeting Mr. Blinken at the U.N. Wednesday. “But with regards to these possible candidates … we have also legitimate security concerns that they had been supporting terrorist organizations. And there are also export restrictions on defense products.”

“We understand their security concerns, but Turkey’s security concerns should be also met,” he added. “And this is also one issue that we should continue discussing with friends and allies, including the United States.”

Mr. Stoltenberg said Thursday he is “confident” that Sweden and Finland could join the alliance quickly and that Turkey’s concerns could be met, The Associated Press reported.

“We are addressing the concerns that Turkey has expressed. Because when an important ally [like] Turkey raises security concerns, raises issues, then of course the only way to deal with that is to sit down and find common ground,” he told reporters.

Swedish and Finnish leaders have moved ahead, saying that Turkey’s objections can be dealt with.

• Guy Taylor contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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