BRUSSELS, June 16 (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he urged Turkey to allow Sweden’s entry into NATO during an introductory meeting on Friday with his new Turkish counterpart Yasar Guler during a gathering of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
“My purpose in meeting him today was an introductory meeting, just to congratulate him on being installed as minister of defence. Of course, (I) seize every opportunity to encourage him to move forward and approve the accession of Sweden,” Austin told a press conference at NATO headquarters.
“But it’s a very short meeting, and I don’t have anything to report out from that.”
Both Sweden and Finland applied to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, choosing to abandon decades of military non-alignment in favour of the transatlantic alliance’s collective security guarantee.
Finland became a NATO member in April this year but Ankara has yet to approve Sweden’s accession, accusing Stockholm of harbouring Kurdish militants that it considers to be terrorists and complaining about anti-Turkey protests in Sweden.
Hungary is the only other NATO member yet to ratify Sweden’s NATO bid, citing Swedish criticism of its record on rule of law. But NATO diplomats say they expect Hungary would move quickly to ratify if Ankara signals it is ready to do so.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Wednesday that Sweden should not expect a green light from Ankara at a NATO summit next month unless it prevents anti-Turkey protests in Stockholm.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that Sweden had addressed Turkish concerns and reiterated his view that Stockholm is ready to join the alliance.
“My message has been now for many, many months that actually Sweden has delivered and that’s the message from (NATO) allies,” he told reporters after the defence ministers’ meeting.
He said there had been “some progress” this week in talks aimed at addressing Turkey’s objections to Swedish membership.