1 of 6 | U.S. President Joe Biden is greeted by Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda as he arrives at Vilnius International Airport in Lithuania on Monday. Photo courtesy of Lithuanian President Press Office | License Photo
July 10 (UPI) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday pushed for his country to gain entry into the European Union in exchange for supporting Sweden's bid to become the newest member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Monday afternoon that Erdogan has agreed to forward a protocol to admit Sweden to NATO's Grand National Assembly. The move is a clear affirming step that Turkey will, indeed, support Sweden's membership.
Erdogan said he would publicly make the request at a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, beginning on Tuesday, adding that he had already made U.S. President Joe Biden, who has pushed for Sweden to be permitted into NATO, aware of his intentions.
Biden arrived in Vilnius on Monday.
"I stand ready to work with President Erdoğan and Türkiye on enhancing defense and deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic area. I look forward to welcoming Prime Minister Kristersson and Sweden as our 32nd NATO Ally," Biden said in a statement. "And I thank Secretary General Stoltenberg for his steadfast leadership."
Turkey has a significant say in Sweden's fate, retaining full veto power as an existing NATO member, but it has withheld its vote in favor of Sweden as it has accused the Nordic nation of housing Kurdish "terrorist organizations."
Finland, which applied for NATO membership at the same time as Sweden and faced similar concerns from Turkey, entered the military alliance in April, becoming the 31st member, after negotiations with Turkey to get its support.
However, Sweden's bid for entry has been marred by public Koran burnings, with the most recent demonstration coming as Salwan Momika, an Iraqi man, burned the Islamic holy text during a protest late last month.
In response, Erdogan's head of communications, Fahrettin Altun, called for Swedish authorities to take "swift action" and a "clear stance" against what Turkey called "terrorism."
"We are sick and tired of enabling of Islamophobia and continued instances of hatred for our religion on the part of European authorities, especially in Sweden," Altun said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday during a news conference Monday that while he supports Turkey's bid for entry into the EU, Erdogan must consider that Sweden has cooperated in meeting the "specific list of requirements" set out to pave the way for its place in NATO.
"It's also important that we address the legitimate security concerns of all allies that want to see Sweden as a member of the alliance as soon as possible because this will strengthen NATO and it will strengthen our ability to defend and protect not least the Baltic region," said Stoltenberg. "If you just look at the map to have Sweden as a full member, in addition to Finland really changes the geography, the NATO presence in this region."
Erdogan over the weekend also pushed for Ukraine's inclusion in NATO, which is expected to be a primary topic of discussion at the summit.
"Undoubtedly, Ukraine deserves the NATO membership," he said in a statement Friday.
U.S. President Joe Biden later called that sentiment "premature," as Ukrainian entry into NATO could lead to an all-out war with Russia.
Despite the rift, Stoltenberg on Monday said he believed the NATO members would agree on a "very clear message" regarding Ukraine.
"No final decision has been made," he said. "But at the summit, I'm absolutely certain that we will have a unity and strong message on Ukraine."