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Swedish prime minister visits White House amid tensions with Turkey in NATO bid

President Joe Biden (R) holds a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of Sweden in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Wednesday. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo

July 5 (UPI) — Sweden will make NATO stronger, President Joe Biden said Wednesday as he welcomed Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to the White House amid tensions with Turkey that could hurt Sweden’s bid to join the alliance.

“I want to reiterate: The United States fully, fully, fully supports Sweden’s membership in NATO,” Biden said, according to a White House transcript of his remarks.

“And the bottom line is simple: Sweden is going to make our Alliance stronger and has the same value set that we have in NATO. And I’m really looking — anxiously looking forward for your membership.”

Biden, speaking ahead of the talks, also praised Kristersson and his country for doing a “great, great deal” to help Ukrainians defend their country against “Russia’s brutality.”

Kristersson thanked Biden for his strong support for Sweden’s NATO accession, which he said “means a lot,” adding that he looked forward to speaking with the president further.

The Swedish leader’s visit was intended to demonstrate U.S. support for Sweden’s NATO bid after Finland officially banded with NATO in April.

Finland’s accession grew NATO to 31 countries and delivered a severe blow to Moscow by expanding the alliance’s shared border with Russia.

“President Biden and Prime Minister Kristersson will review our growing security cooperation and reaffirm their view that Sweden should join NATO as soon as possible,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Back in April, Biden applauded Finland’s entry to NATO, while also expressing hope that Sweden would follow suit, which would serve to deter the Russians from any further military incursions.

The leaders also plan to discuss Russia’s recent transatlantic coordination with China as well as climate change and issues related to emerging technologies like AI.

Kristersson faced controversy back home as NATO member Turkey blasted the Swedish government last week for allowing copies of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, to be burned during a protest outside a mosque in Stockholm.

The June 28 demonstration by Salwan Momika — a dissident who immigrated to Sweden from Iraq — infuriated Turkish leaders, who swiftly accused Sweden of being anti-Islamic after the book was burned on Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s largest holidays.

Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan went further, saying the dignity of the holy book had been desecrated “under the pretext of freedom of expression. To turn a blind eye to such heinous acts is to be complicit in them.”

The burning of the Koran also led Fahrettin Altun, the head of communications for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to call on Swedish authorities to take “swift action” against “terrorism,” which he called “a basic prerequisite of any serious alliance” in NATO.

“We are sick and tired of enabling of Islamophobia and continued instances of hatred for our religion on the part of European authorities, especially in Sweden,” Altun said.

“Those who seek to become our allies in NATO cannot tolerate or enable destructive behaviors of Islamophobic and xenophobic terrorists.”

Swedish authorities maintain that Momika was within his rights, and that he obtained the necessary permits that allowed him to burn the Koran under current Swedish law.

Previously, Momika was granted permission to carry out the burning after Stockholm’s Court of Appeal reversed a decision by the national police that would have barred Momika from setting the holy book on fire.

The alliance has not yet addressed the controversy, but NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week that he and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed that it was “time to welcome” Sweden as a “full member of NATO.”

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