President Joe Biden welcomed the leaders of Finland and Sweden to the White House on Thursday in a show of support for their applications to join N.A.T.O., a day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made clear his opposition.
It is the latest step in a reshaping of the global order following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
U.S. officials have called it a ‘watershed’ moment in history as Finland and Sweden drop their policy of neutrality to join the Western military alliance.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson arrived at the White House for three-way talks, where they were greeted with handshakes and laughter by Biden.
He has made uniting Europe against the Russian invasion of Ukraine a key priority.
And, in the White House rose garden after their meeting, he said Finland and Sweden, which together have nearly one million troops, would ‘make N.A.T.O. stronger.’
Years of doubts about N.A.T.O’s relevance, he said, were over.
‘Today, there is no question: NATO is relevant. It is effective, and it’s more needed now than ever,’ said Biden in the White House rose garden after their meeting.
‘The indispensable alliance of decades past is still the indispensable alliance for the world we face today. And I would argue tomorrow as well.
‘The decision of Sweden and Finland, the one they have made, is testament to that commitment.’
But their applications must overcome Erdogan’s opposition. He laid out his complaints hours before the White House meeting.
President Joe Biden, Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto walk along the Colonnade to the Oval Office at the White House, in Washington,
Biden greeted the two leaders with handshakes and laughter on Thursday morning in a very public show of support for their applications to join N.A.T.O.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a Thursday video that he remains opposed to the Finland and Sweden joining the N.A.T.O. alliance
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Finland and Sweden to launch NATO applications
‘We will continue our policy in a determined way. We have told allies that we will say no to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership,’ he said late on Wednesday.
Turkey’s position is that Sweden and Finland back ‘terrorists’ in the shape of the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which has fought ISIS.
Turkey also accuses the two countries of harboring followers of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric accused by the Turkish government of plotting a 2016 military coup attempt.
‘N.A.T.O. is a security alliance and we cannot accept terrorists to be in it,’ Erdogan said in an interview with students.
The alliance operates on consensus, which means each of its 30 members can veto membership applications.
White House officials insist Erdogan’s objections can be overcome.
‘I think we’re going to be okay,’ Biden said on Wednesday when asked about the issue.
And National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said: ‘We’re confident that, at the end of the day, Finland and Sweden will have an effective and efficient accession process, that Turkey’s concerns can be addressed.
‘Finland and Sweden are working directly with Turkey to do this, but we’re also talking to the Turks to try to help facilitate. I spoke with my counterpart today.’
If the nations are accepted into the alliance they will bring with them almost 1million troops, including reserves, along with a huge amount of artillery, jets and submarines
On Wednesday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that he was confident that Finland and Sweden will have an ‘effective and efficient accession process’
The three leaders are due to address the media in the White House Rose Garden after their meeting.
‘Two nations with a long tradition of neutrality will be joining the world’s most powerful defensive alliance, and they will bring with them strong capabilities and a proven track record as security partners,’ said Sullivan ahead of the meeting.
Finland shares an 810-mile border with Russia, and has long sought to maintain stable relations with its nuclear eastern neighbor even while closely aligning with the west on economic policy.
Biden publicly declared his support for both applications.
‘I strongly support the historic applications from Finland and Sweden for membership in N.A.T.O.,’ he tweeted on Wednesday.
‘I look forward to welcoming President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson to Washington tomorrow so that we can further discuss their applications and European security.’
After weeks of deliberation and amid threats from Russia, Sweden And Finland this week formally completed their applications to join N.A.T.O.