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Biden meets with heads of Finland, Sweden in show of support for NATO membership

The president spoke with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the White House a day after both applied to join the alliance.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday gave a full-throated endorsement of efforts by Finland and Sweden to join NATO, throwing his weight behind a move that could transform the Western alliance.

Biden met with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson at the White House a day after the countries submitted their membership applications for admission to NATO, breaking with their long-held neutral stances in Europe. 

During an event in the Rose Garden with the two leaders, Biden said the meeting represented a “historic day.”

“In the face of aggression, NATO has not grown weaker or more divided. It has grown stronger, more united," he said. "With Finland and Sweden’s decision to request membership in NATO, it’ll be enhanced for all time.”

The move by Finland and Sweden is the latest example of how Russia’s war in Ukraine has reshaped European alliances and its security posture, strengthening alliances that Russian President Vladimir Putin had sought to weaken. 

The process of joining could take months. Any of NATO’s 30 member countries can veto who can join, and the U.S. Senate must also provide its advice and consent for the U.S. to approve the move. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already threatened to block both countries’ bids.

Biden said the U.S. would be committed to defending Finland and Sweden's security while it went through the application process.

"We're going to work together to remain vigilant against the threats to our shared security, and deter and confront any aggression while Finland and Sweden are in this accession process," Biden said.

Erdogan’s objection to Sweden and Finland joining Nato stem from Sweden’s perceived support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is banned in Turkey, and an armed group in Syria that Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK. Turkey also accuses the two countries of harboring followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara says is behind a failed military coup in 2016.

“Finland has always had proud and good bilateral relations with Turkey,” said Niinistö at the White House. “As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey’s security, just as Turkey will commit to our security. We take terrorism seriously, we condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it.”

U.S., European and NATO leaders sought to downplay the opposition from Turkey.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. was confident Turkey’s concerns could be addressed and that the U.S. was in talks with the Turks to help facilitate Finland’s and Sweden’s membership.