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NATO Chief: 'Historic' Summit as Turkey Backs Adding Sweden

Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda, NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg, US President Joe Biden, Britain's PM Sunak and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose with other participants for a family photo at NATO Summit in Vilnius, July 11, 2023.

VILNIUS, LITHUANIA — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday he is “absolutely confident” Turkey will ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO and that alliance leaders gathered for a two-day summit in Lithuania’s capital will “send a very strong and positive message” about Ukraine’s own desire to join.

Allies were debating the wording of a final joint text, but there is consensus that Ukraine joining NATO while Russia’s invasion is ongoing is not under consideration. Membership in the middle of a war would require the alliance to apply the principle of “an attack on one is an attack on all” enshrined in the bloc’s Article 5.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said he accepts that situation, but shortly before leaders gathered for their meeting Tuesday he tweeted complaints about what he said were “signals that certain wording is being discussed without Ukraine.”

Zelenskyy, who is expected to attend the summit Wednesday, said “vague wording about ‘conditions’” was being added, while there was no timeframe for inviting Ukraine to join NATO.

“It seems there is no readiness, neither to invite Ukraine to NATO nor to make it a member of the alliance,” Zelenskyy said.

NATO allies in 2008 agreed in principle that Ukraine would join, but did not set up a pathway for Ukraine’s membership.

Stoltenberg said Tuesday in Vilnius that he had put forth a package during an informal NATO foreign ministers meeting in May that included removing the requirement for a membership action plan in Ukraine’s bid.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, greets United States President Joe Biden during arrivals for a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Tuesday, July 11, 2023.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, greets United States President Joe Biden during arrivals for a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Tuesday, July 11, 2023.

U.S. President Joe Biden told Stoltenberg ahead of Tuesday’s meetings that he agrees with the language Stoltenberg proposed “relative to the future of Ukraine being able to join NATO and we’re looking for a continued united NATO.”

Some NATO allies, including the U.S., U.K. and France, are set to come up with proposals to strengthen Ukraine’s armed forces, including its postwar needs, through a series of long-term commitments outside the NATO framework.

The so-called security guarantees are going to be done in “extremely close coordination, given how high the stakes are,” however it will be “different from having an Article 5 agreement to defend Ukraine,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and Americas program at Chatham House, to VOA.

Sweden’s Accession

Stoltenberg said Tuesday the NATO summit “is already historic before it has started” after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yielded a breakthrough in a months-long impasse during which Erdogan accused Stockholm of not doing enough to crack down on their branch of a political party that Turkey’s government sees as extremists.

Erdogan pledged to support the approval of Sweden’s bid in Turkey’s parliament, while Hungary, the other remaining NATO member yet to give its approval in a process that must be unanimous, is expected to follow suit.

Biden, who is set to meet with Erdogan late Tuesday at the end of the first day of the summit, welcomed news of Turkey’s support for Sweden.

“I stand ready to work with (Turkish) President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan and (Turkey) on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area,” Biden said in a statement. “I look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Kristersson and Sweden as our 32nd NATO Ally.”

The Biden administration has supported Turkey’s effort to buy 40 F-16 fighter jets from the United States, a deal that has met opposition from U.S. lawmakers who said it should not go forward until Turkey supported Sweden joining NATO.

Asked Tuesday what made Turkey agree to drop its opposition, Biden said with a smile, “What do you think?” When asked by another reporter if he was surprised by Turkey’s decision, Biden said, “Not at all.”

Sweden and Finland applied jointly for membership last May, with both Nordic nations citing overwhelming popular support for the idea amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Finland’s membership was finalized in April.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Sweden’s accession would be negative for Russia’s security.

Defense Spending

Another key issue at the summit is whether the members can agree on — and then meet — a commitment to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Currently, only seven members fulfill that target.

Several alliance members used the summit to announce new military aid for Ukraine, including a $770 million package from Germany with Patriot missile launchers, battle tanks and ammunition. French President Emmanuel Macron said his government will supply long-range missiles to Ukraine.

Following the two-day summit, Biden heads to Helsinki on Thursday to meet with leaders of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. Once Sweden has joined NATO, all five Nordic countries will be members of the military alliance.

This report originates from VOA's Patsy Widakuswara and Anita Powell. Some information was sourced from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.