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US President Biden Rallies Behind NATO Bids as Finland, Sweden Say to Address Turkey

File photo of US President Joe Biden. (Image: AP)

File photo of US President Joe Biden. (Image: AP)

Sweden and Finland, while solidly Western, have historically kept a distance from NATO as part of longstanding policies aimed at avoiding angering Russia

US President Joe Biden on Thursday strongly backed NATO membership bids by Finland and Sweden in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the two leaders promised to address concerns raised by Turkey.

With the red-carpet pomp of a White House visit, Biden welcomed Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto days after they formally announced their NATO aspirations and said he was submitting their applications to the US Congress, where there is bipartisan support for ratification.

“The bottom line is simple. Quite straightforward: Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” Biden said, offering the “full, total, complete backing of the United States of America.”

“Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries and strong and transparent economies, and a strong moral sense of what is right,” Biden said with the two leaders at his side in the White House Rose Garden.

“They meet every NATO requirement, and then some,” Biden told assembled reporters without taking any questions.

Sweden and Finland, while solidly Western, have historically kept a distance from NATO as part of longstanding policies aimed at avoiding angering Russia.

But the two nations both moved ahead amid shock over their giant neighbor’s invasion of Ukraine, which had unsuccessfully sought to join NATO.

With Russia voicing anger over the NATO bids, Biden said he told the two leaders that the United States would “remain vigilant against the threats to our shared security.”

The United States will work to “deter and confront any aggression while Finland and Sweden are in this accession process,” Biden said.

Drawing an implicit contrast to his predecessor Donald Trump, Biden called NATO’s mutual defense promise a “sacred commitment.”

“We will never fail in our pledge to defend every single inch of NATO territory,” Biden said.

But membership requires consent of all 30 existing members and Turkey has voiced misgivings.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the two nations of backing “terrorism,” a reference to the presence in Finland and especially Sweden of Kurdish militants from the separatist PKK.

Addressing Turkey, Niinisto said Finland was “open to discussing all the concerns that you may have concerning our membership in an open and tractive manner.”

“We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it,” Niinisto said.

Andersson said that Sweden is hoping for a “swift ratification process by NATO members.”

“We are right now having a dialogue with all NATO member countries, including Turkey, on different levels to sort out any issues at hand,” she said.

Until Turkey’s objections, US officials voiced hope for ratification in time for a NATO summit next month in Madrid.

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first published:May 19, 2022, 20:57 IST