Blinken: U.S. will be able to call Sweden, Finland NATO allies soon

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a joint news conference with Sweden’s Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom and Finland's Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto at the State Department in Washington, U.S., December 8, 2022. REUTERS/Amanda Andrade Rhodes

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said he is convinced the United States will be able to call Sweden and Finland NATO allies soon and said Turkey's concerns about the two nations joining the alliance are being addressed.

Blinken, speaking at a press briefing following meetings at the State Department with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts, said that the two nations are already integrating into the work of the alliance.

"This is not a bilateral issue between the United States and Turkey. And it's not going to turn into one," Blinken said, adding that Finland and Sweden have had a productive process working with Turkey to address concerns and concrete steps have been taken.

"I have every expectation that both will formally become members soon."

Finland and Sweden both asked to join NATO this year in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but longtime member Turkey refused to endorse their request until a number of demands were met, including taking a tougher stance against Kurdish militants and removing a ban on arms sales.

NATO makes its decisions by consensus, meaning that the two Nordic nations require the approval of all 30 alliance member states. Only Turkey still stands opposed to their membership, though Hungary has also yet to ratify it.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said Finland hoped to finalize the process of NATO membership soon.

"We take the security concerns of all allies serious. Finland is a security provider whose membership will further strengthen the alliance as a whole."

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström said the NATO accession process was "progressing well."

In Ankara on Thursday, Finland's defence minister Antti Kaikkonen said the sooner Turkey ratifies its NATO membership bid the better and it would consider granting arms export permits to Turkey, one of Ankara's requests, on a case by case basis.

Reporting by Michael Martina and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Alexandra Hudson

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