President Joe Biden (C) Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden (L) and President Sauli Niinistš of Finland arrive for a press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. on May 19, 2022. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo
May 19 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden assured the leaders of Finland and Sweden of full U.S. backing for their NATO memberships as he welcomed them to the White House on Thursday. Both Scandinavian countries formally applied to join NATO this week, as a direct result of Russia's war in Ukraine.
Biden hosted the visit by Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finland President Sauli Niinisto. The three leaders spoke at a joint news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday afternoon.
Biden assured the Finnish and Swedish leaders that they have "the full, total, complete backing of the United States of America."
The White House said the three leaders discussed European security and the Nordic nations' applications on Wednesday for NATO membership.
Both Finland and Sweden had mulled NATO membership for weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, as a measure to shore up security against aggression from Russian President Vladimir Putin -- particularly as some experts have said it's unknown whether Moscow would stop with Ukraine.
Putin has said on previous occasions that Moscow views NATO's expansion eastward as a security threat. Russia for years has attempted to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and warned previously against Finland and Sweden joining the alliance.
In his remarks Thursday, Biden vowed that Finland and Sweden have full U.S. support and called their moves to join NATO "momentous" actions.
"Today I'm proud to welcome and offer the strong support of the United States for the applications of two great democracies and two close, highly capable partners to join the strongest and most powerful defensive alliance in the history of the world," Biden said.
Biden said Sweden and Finland are exercising the sovereign right all states possess to decide their own security. He said NATO is needed now more than ever.
"This is about the future," Biden said. "It's about a revived NATO that has the tools and the resources, the clarity and conviction to defend our shared values and lead the world."
Finland and Sweden, Biden said, are already working in coordination with the United States, its allies and partners to "defend the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom against Russia's invasion."
Biden said the two nations meet every NATO requirement and then some.
The leaders, Biden said, discussed NATO accession, the war in Ukraine and strengthening transatlantic security.
Biden said his administration is sending the U.S. Congress a report on the NATO applications of both countries so the Senate can move as efficiently and quickly on confirming their NATO accession.
Biden reiterated Thursday that the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory. And he said new nations joining NATO are not a threat to any nation because NATO's purpose is defensive.
Finnish President Niinisto said Finland will become a strong NATO ally.
"We hope for a swift ratification for our membership once it's agreed," Niinisto said.
Niinisto directly addressed Turkish concerns about the Finnish and Swedish NATO applications.
He said as NATO allies, Finland will commit to Turkey's security.
"Together we are taking a historic step," Niinisto said. "We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it."
He said Finland is open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have about Finland's NATO membership.
"Today, the situation in Ukraine reminds us of the darkest days of European history," Andersson added in her remarks. "We are security providers with sophisticated defense capabilities. And we are champions of freedom, democracy and human rights.
"We stand together more united than ever."
Andersson said Russia's full-scale aggression against a sovereign and democratic neighbor was a watershed moment for Sweden. Sweden has come to the conclusion, she said, that Swedish national security is best served by joining NATO.
"After 200 years of military non-alignment Sweden has chosen a new path."
Press Secretary Jen Psaki conducts her final briefing as White House press secretary in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room on Friday. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo