Washington: The United States said on the candidacies of Sweden and Finland for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) that the two Nordic countries are ready and should be added to the world's strongest defense alliance at the earliest possible opportunity.
Addressing a press briefing on Tuesday, the US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said that the US has been very clear about its views on Finland and Sweden's candidacies for NATO membership in public, as well as in private.
"The issue of Sweden and Finland is not a bilateral issue. We have been very clear in public, and we have been very clear in private about our views on Finland and Sweden's candidacies for NATO membership. We believe they are ready, we believe they should be added to the world's strongest defense alliance at the earliest possible opportunity," he said.
Responding to a media query on Finland and Sweden returning to functional dialogue on NATO membership, the US State Department Spokesperson said that the US will continue to voice its support for the candidature of the two Nordic countries.
"We can continue to voice our support for their candidacies. We can continue to engage in public and in private with Turkey and make it clear that we believe that these two countries are ready. That they are prepared, that they should be admitted to the alliance at any possible opportunity," Price added.
Sweden and Finland have been jointly applying to join NATO, but Turkey has so far blocked the expansion, citing concerns that Sweden needs to crack down on exiled Kurdish militants and their sympathizers and extradite critics of Turkish President Erdogan, reported Euronews.
The joint bid by Sweden and Finland to join NATO requires the approval of all existing members, including Turkey. Until now, the two countries have been committed to joining the alliance together.
Furthermore, the US State Department Spokesperson also spoke at length on the issue of the burning of the Quran in Stockholm, Sweden.
Describing the incident as reprehensible and disgusting, the US State Department Spokesperson said that no one in this administration is voicing any degree of support for this vile action that took place.
Calling Sweden a 'vibrant democracy', he further added, "The reason something like this could happen precisely because Sweden upholds freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and when you provide people with those freedoms, you safeguard those freedoms, sometimes they make terrible decisions. They do awful things."
On Tuesday, the Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto indicated that Finland may have to join NATO without Sweden after Ankara cast doubts on the expansion of the alliance over anti-Turkey protests in Stockholm.
The joint bid by Sweden and Finland to join NATO requires the approval of all existing members, including Turkey. Until now, the two countries have been committed to joining the alliance together, but Haavisto's comment suggests that this may no longer be the case.
The statement follows a recent Quran-burning protest in Stockholm, which resulted in Turkey ruling out support for Sweden's bid to join the military alliance. Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom has stated that "we are in contact with Finland to find out what is really meant."
Notably, the Danish-Swedish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan set fire to a duplicate of the Muslim holy e-book on Saturday at the entrance of Turkey's embassy within the Swedish capital, angering Ankara and Muslim international locations around the globe.
Haavisto mentioned the anti-Turkey protests had "clearly put a brake on the progress" of the purposes by Finland and Sweden to hitch the trans-Atlantic army alliance.