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Biden backs Sweden and Finland's NATO membership...

Andrew Harnik

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President Biden said Thursday Finland and Sweden have the "full, total, complete backing" of the United States for their application to join NATO, the alliance that has been the cornerstone of Western defense since World War II.

Biden, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson spoke at the White House Rose Garden; Biden said he was sending paperwork to Congress on Thursday to facilitate ratification of their bids.

"Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger," Biden said. "And a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America's security."

The decision to ratify both country's bids into NATO will be a rare bipartisan success, as both Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have expressed support of the measure.

"I think the United States ought to be first in line to ratify the treaty for both these countries to join," McConnell said after meeting with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Saturday.

Months into the war in Ukraine, Turkey still stands in the way on NATO expansion

The two countries applied to join the alliance following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but their membership is far from assured. Turkey, which is also a NATO member, has said it will veto any application by the two Scandinavian nations because of their support of Kurdish groups that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regards as terrorist organizations.

"We are following developments concerning Sweden and Finland, but we are not of a favorable opinion," Erdogan said last week.

Biden appeared to nod to those concerns when he asked the Senate to approve the two countries' membership "once the perspectives of all allies are addressed and NATO adopts the accession protocols."

Finnish President Niinisto addressed Turkey's concerns to his country's membership in NATO, saying Helsinki was "open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have concerning our membership in an open and constructive manner."

He said some of those discussions had already begun and would continue.

Swedish Prime Minister Andersson called Russia's invasion of Ukraine a "watershed moment for Sweden," a nation that has maintained a policy of military nonalignment for hundreds of years, even during the two world wars.

Andersson said she appreciated the bipartisan support in Washington for her country's NATO application, and, like Niinisto said, her country was talking to all NATO members, including Turkey, "on different levels to sort out any issues at hand."

Biden says adding NATO members is not a threat to Russia

Biden also addressed concerns that Finnish and Swedish membership to NATO might further inflame neighboring Russia. Putin opposes NATO expansion, seeing it as directed at Russia and its borders.

"New members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation," Biden said. "In the face of aggression, NATO has not grown weaker or more divided. It has grown stronger, more united."

Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who has worked in the office of the Director of National Intelligence and is now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told NPR that the threats Finland and Sweden may face from Russia are not that drastic.

"I think that Russia is too bogged down with its war in Ukraine. And I think that's exactly the calculus that Finland and Sweden have, that they see that Russia is distracted, and it gives them this window to make a move," Kendall-Taylor said.

Putin, for his part, said recently that he does not see Finland and Sweden joining NATO has a threat, but Kendall-Taylor points out it could still amplify concerns from the Russian leader.

"For Putin, it does underscore this idea, this fear that he has long held that Russia is being encircled by NATO," she said.

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