The NATO chief said on Tuesday it was more important that last year’s bids by Finland and Sweden to join the alliance were ratified faster, even if those countries did not join NATO at the same time as originally planned.
Helsinki and Oslo’s applications to join the alliance have been ratified by all member countries except Hungary and Turkey.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is particularly opposed to Sweden’s bid, saying it harbors members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) whom Ankara considers terrorists.
Western officials have said they would prefer the two countries to join NATO together, in part because it would then be easier to integrate them into the alliance’s military structures at the same time.
But Jens Stoltenberg, meeting the defense ministers of the alliance states in Brussels, expressed his belief that this is a secondary issue.
“The main question is not whether Finland and Sweden will be ratified together. The main issue is for them both to be ratified as full members as soon as possible, he told reporters. “I am confident that both (countries) will become full members (of the alliance) and I am working hard to get both (requests) ratified as soon as possible.”
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson told a press conference in Stockholm that “obvious reasons”, in particular close defense cooperation between Sweden and Finland, made a joint entry preferable.
“That’s what both countries want,” he said. “But that doesn’t change the fact that Turkey makes its own decisions…it’s up to Turkey to decide.”
During a visit to Stockholm on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock said she hoped the two would-be members could still join quickly and “hand in hand” given Sweden’s response to concerns from Turkey.