Budapest and Ankara should ratify Stockholm’s NATO application before the Alliance’s summit in Vilnius in July, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said during an official visit to Sweden on Wednesday.
In the first visit of a US Secretary of Defence in 23 years, Lloyd Austin was received by his Swedish counterpart Pål Jonson at Muskö naval base on Wednesday, where he assured that the US would continue to strive for a rapid Swedish entry into NATO.
“I look forward to soon being able to call you an ally,” he said, adding that the US “will work hard to get it done before the summer. I see it as very important”.
Austin repeated his confidence that Sweden would be a NATO member for the NATO summit in Vilnius on 11-12 July.
“We urge Turkey and Hungary to ratify Sweden’s accession as soon as possible,” he said.
Sweden is expected to join NATO soon as it now only requires the approvals of the Turkish and Hungarian parliaments. The Turkish parliament has so far consistently refused to stage a vote for Swedish accession due to the country’s refusal to extradite Kurdish opposition, and Hungarian lawmakers argue that Sweden has been too critical of its human rights situation.
What the US can do to persuade Turkey and Hungary to accept Sweden’s NATO membership, Austin declined to say, except to urge the Turkish leadership “as an important ally” to do so.
When asked whether the recent agreement to sell F16s to Turkey could speed up ratification, Austin did not want to make a link between that deal and Sweden’s NATO membership.
“Turkey is an important ally, and it is important to update their skills,” he said.
Security guarantees and US military help
Another item on the agenda during the visit was the security assurances Sweden received from the US. “Sweden is an important partner. We exercise with you, and our troops work together to increase interoperability and modernise our forces,” said Austin, who did not give details on how long or extensive the US security assurances would last.
He also mentioned that US warships have been visiting Swedish ports more frequently over the past year and that American fighter jets have been showing up with Swedish planes and will continue to do so.
“This is a strong signal from the US,” Swedish Defence Minister Pål Jonson has said.
According to Jonson, the visit is proof the US is committed to Sweden’s security in anticipation of NATO membership and an important signal that the US wants to see Sweden in NATO before the Vilnius summit in July.
At the same time, Sweden and the US are negotiating deeper defence cooperation.
An agreement, which is expected to be completed in 2024 and was discussed during the meeting in Sweden, aims to make it easier and faster for Sweden to receive US military support.
According to Jonson, the agreement mainly deals with various legal and technical aspects of the US presence on Swedish territory.
“It could be about tariffs and taxes. It could be about pre-stocking of defence material, but it is too early to say”, Jonson said, adding that “however, permanent bases are out of the question.”
After the visit to Sweden, Lloyd Austin will continue his European tour at the US Ramstein base in Germany, where he will meet with the International Support Group for Ukraine.
Source : Euractiv