US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that he is “confident” Sweden will be welcomed as a new member of NATO by July.
“I join the other 30 ministers of defense in the alliance and I know that they feel the same way,” Austin said, speaking alongside Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson in Stockholm.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine drove previously non-aligned Finland and Sweden to abandon their neutrality and seek protection within NATO.
The alliance has an open-door policy, meaning that any country can be invited to join if it expresses an interest, as long as it is able and willing to uphold the principles of the alliance’s founding treaty.
However, under the accession rules, any member state can veto a new country from joining. And while an overwhelming majority of NATO members welcomed Finland and Sweden’s applications, two countries – Turkey and Hungary – stalled the process.
Turkey has accused Finland and Sweden of housing Kurdish “terrorist organizations,” while Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed they were spreading “outright lies” about his country’s rule of law record.
Turkey and Hungary softened their stance on Finland last month, approving its application and allowing it to become NATO's 31st member nation.
However, they continue to block Sweden's accession. Turkey said it would not approve the country's NATO membership unless it extradites “terrorists” upon Turkish request. Sweden has made clear this won’t happen and, for now, the process is stuck.
Speaking on Wednesday, Austin said he believed the stalemate would be resolved soon.
"I'm sure that these countries will reach that decision. And I feel confident that they'll reach it before July," he said.