TOKYO (AP) — Sweden's defense minister said Tuesday his country's top priority is to gain full NATO membership before the allied leaders gather for their next summit, saying an addition will make the trans-Atlantic alliance even stronger.
NATO wants to bring Sweden into the fold by the time United States President Joe Biden and other allied leaders meet July 11-12 in Vilnius, Lithuania, but Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the move. All 31 member countries must ratify a candidate’s accession protocol for it to join the alliance.
“The Swedish government's highest priority is to become a full-fledged member of NATO as soon as possible,” said Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson, in Japan for talks his Japanese counterpart and other officials. “We're hopeful that we can become it by the Vilnius Summit.”
Turkey’s government has criticized Sweden for being too lenient on terror organizations and security threats, while Hungary has not given details. Jonson said he respects the decisions of Turkey and Hungary, and that Sweden has new anti-terrorism legislation that would “close up any remaining loopholes there” to address Turkey's concern.
“We think the whole northern flag of NATO would be strengthened by Sweden being a full-fledged member into NATO,” Jonson said.
He said Sweden will continue supporting Ukraine with weapons, which is “strongly into our national interest, because if Russia would win the war in Ukraine, it would have disastrous consequences for Sweden and Europe's security policy, its geostrategic location and military situation in Europe.”
“So supporting Ukraine is key for us, and we will continue doing that, as long as it takes,” Jonson said.
He said Sweden joining of NATO will also deepen the country's ties with the United States and its ally Japan, as his country is currently negotiating a defense cooperation agreement with Washington.
Jonson said Sweden and Japan have similar challenges these days, since Russia’s war on Ukraine has brought the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific together. Japan and Sweden signed an agreement in December on defense technology and equipment transfer to deepen arms equipment cooperation.
Jonson and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada are set to hold talks Wednesday to discuss further strengthening of their military ties.