1 of 2 | U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (L) and Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson sign the Defense Cooperation Agreement on Tuesday at the Pentagon, deepening their two countries' military ties. Photo courtesy of U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin/X
Dec. 5 (UPI) -- The United States and Sweden signed an agreement to strengthen military cooperation that will permit U.S. forces to operate within the Scandinavian country, the allies said Tuesday.
The Defense Cooperation Agreement was signed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson at the Pentagon, as Stockholm seeks to shore up its defense amid Russia's war in Europe and as it awaits accession to membership of the NATO defensive alliance.
"Sweden is a strong, capable defense partner that champions NATO's values, and will further strengthen the alliance once its NATO accession is completed," a U.S. State Department spokesman said in a statement that endorsed Sweden for NATO membership, adding it will "strengthen our collective defense and enhance our ability to respond to security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic area."
"Sweden will be a net security provider from its first day in NATO, and the alliance will be stronger with Sweden as a NATO ally," it said.
Pentagon press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pay Ryder explained to reporters that the agreement regulates issues such as the legal status of U.S. soldiers as well as which military areas they will have access to and the pre-positioning of military material in the Scandinavian country, among other issues.
"The DCA also creates the conditions necessary for U.S. military support when requested and is therefore an agreement of great importance to both countries' shared security objectives," he said.
Stockholm's defense ministry described the agreement in a statement as "an important step in deepening practical military cooperation with the United States."
"The agreement strengthens the regional security of both Sweden and our neighboring countries by signaling the commitment and actual presence of the United States."
Sweden's legislative body the Riksdag must first approve the measure and agree to constitutional amendments before it can go into effect, which is expected to take place sometime next year.
The agreement was signed against the background of war having returned to Europe with Russia's invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago.
After the war began, Finland and Sweden shrugged off their decades of military neutrality and applied for NATO status in May 2022, with Helsinki gaining membership in April. Turkey has remained an obstacle to Stockholm's accession as unanimous support is required for an applicant to join the defense pact.
Turkey's objection is over Sweden giving asylum to some members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or the PKK, which Ankara considers to be a terrorist organization. It has also voiced concerns over anti-Muslim protests and sentiments in the Scandinavian county.
Negotiations are ongoing, and Sweden has said Turkey has informed leaders of its intention to ratify its accession to NATO.
In a conversation Tuesday with the Washington, D.C.-based Atlantic Council think tank, Jonson expressed confidence that the issue of it joining the pact is not a question of if, but of when.
"We're hopeful that this is going to be resolved as soon as possible," he said, adding that Sweden is more closely integrated into NATO than it was a year ago, but that it cannot be a security provider to the alliance until it is a full-fledged member.
"So, we're hopeful this is going to happen, and we think it is important for Sweden and we think it is important for the alliance," he said.