Biden wants Sweden admitted to NATO now. What's the real reason for the delay?
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The leaders of the NATO countries head to their annual meeting. It's being held in Lithuania next week, with a focus once again on Russia's war on Ukraine.
ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:
Sweden wants to join the alliance whose nations promised to defend each other against outside attacks. But one of the NATO allies, Turkey, has blocked that application for more than a year.
MARTIN: President Biden meets with Sweden's prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, to talk about that today. And NPR White House reporter Deepa Shivaram will be watching.
Deepa, good morning.
DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.
MARTIN: So let's start with why Sweden wants to join NATO and why it's taking so long to get that application ratified.
SHIVARAM: Yeah. This all started a little over a year ago. Sweden has long been a neutral country, but that changed after Russia invaded Ukraine. And that's when both Sweden and Finland applied for membership to NATO. The war essentially made public opinion in Sweden change to support joining this military alliance. And all countries that belong to NATO have to ratify any new members. Finland was approved earlier this year, but for Sweden, Turkey is a big hold up. They claim that Sweden is harboring Kurdish separatists whom Turkey has designated as terrorists. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Sweden to extradite more than 100 people over this.
And on top of all of that, there was an incident last week in Stockholm. An Iraqi man living in Sweden burned the Quran, which is the Muslim holy book, outside of a mosque. The man reportedly had a permit for this demonstration because Swedish courts have said that denying it would be infringing freedom of speech. But there have been massive protests and backlash since this happened, and the Swedish Foreign Ministry has condemned the burning. But, of course, many Muslim countries are seeing this as religious hatred, and that includes Turkey. Erdogan has also condemned this, and it's all been complicated and already long-standing conflict.
MARTIN: So for President Biden and, you know, for a number of other Western leaders, it's been a priority to try to keep NATO strong and unified in the face of Russian aggression. So what has the White House been doing to try to accelerate Sweden's ratification?
SHIVARAM: The administration has been in talks with Turkey, trying to sway them for months. That's included national security adviser Jake Sullivan traveling to Istanbul, Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with his Turkish counterpart. And other NATO countries have been putting pressure on Turkey as well. And there's also been talks over these F-16 fighter jets. Turkey has been trying to get them from the U.S. for years. In May, President Biden talked to Erdogan, and later after that conversation, Biden publicly connected the two issues, providing the F-16s and Sweden's approval into NATO. John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told reporters last week that he thinks the jets should be in play now.
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JOHN HERBST: I think that the administration could do more to be able to offer Erdogan the F-16s as part of a deal, and that might well be a decisive factor.
SHIVARAM: But in order to move forward, Congress would need to approve. And Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who leads the Foreign Relations Committee, has said he's concerned about Turkey's human rights record. So the path forward on this whole thing is a little bit unclear.
MARTIN: So that brings us to this meeting today. What are Biden and Kristersson expected to talk about?
SHIVARAM: The focus today is definitely going to be on NATO and trying to expedite this ongoing process of getting Sweden ratified. The White House says they'll be talking about Russia, relations with China and climate change as well. And then on Sunday, the president's travels kick off. He's first headed to London, where he's meeting with King Charles, then that NATO summit. And then after that summit, Biden will end his trip in Finland, the newest NATO member, to meet with Nordic leaders.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Deepa Shivaram. Deepa, thank you.
SHIVARAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.