On the verge of joining NATO, Sweden has signed a defense cooperation agreement with Washington that allows the United States access to all military bases across the Scandinavian country, saying the deal will enhance regional security.
STOCKHOLM — On the verge of joining NATO, Sweden has signed a defense cooperation agreement with Washington that allows the United States access to all military bases across the Scandinavian country, saying the deal will strengthen regional security.
Swedish Defense Minister Pall Johnson said the agreement signed in Washington on Tuesday “will create better conditions for Sweden to be able to receive support from the United States in the event of a war or crisis.”
Johnson told Swedish broadcaster SVT that this does not mean that “all 17 sites will be used” but “where it is militarily important for them to be able to store defense equipment, for example.”
The agreement was signed at the Pentagon by Johnson and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said that by adding the capabilities of the Swedish Armed Forces to NATO, “we will become stronger.”
Austin said the agreement “sends a strong signal that we remain committed to addressing security challenges together.”
The strategically important island of Gotland to Sweden is located in the Baltic Sea, just over 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in the Baltic Sea.
The United States concluded a similar agreement with Sweden’s western neighbor, NATO member Norway, in 2021, and is currently negotiating such an agreement with NATO members Finland and Denmark, two other northern countries.
Sweden and its neighbor Finland decided to abandon their long-standing non-aligned policy and apply for NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. Finland joined NATO in April.
New members must be approved by all current members of the alliance. Turkey and Hungary are the only two countries in NATO that have not officially approved Sweden’s request to join.
Turkey delayed ratifying the treaty for more than a year, accusing Sweden of not taking Turkey’s security concerns seriously enough, including its war against Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers security threats.
In comments published by the state-run Anadolu Agency on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked Sweden’s ratification of NATO membership to the US Congress’ approval of Turkey’s request to purchase 40 F-16 fighter jets and equipment to modernize its existing fleet.
The request received support from the White House but faced opposition in Congress.
“I have done my duty, but I expect something from you too,” Erdogan told a group of journalists, on his way back from Qatar, where he attended the 44th Gulf Cooperation Council summit. He added, “You (the United States) must pass the (F-16 aircraft) issue simultaneously in Congress.”
Last week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he had told the Turkish president that “the time has come” to allow Sweden to become a member of the military alliance.
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