US looking forward to Sweden becoming NATO member before July summit: Austin

The U.S. defense secretary's visit coincides with Aurora 23, Sweden's biggest military exercise for more than a quarter of a century.

By Simon Johnson, Reuters - April 20, 2023

MUSKO, Sweden β€” The United States looks forward to welcoming Sweden as a NATO member before the alliance’s upcoming summit in July and will encourage Turkey and Hungary to ratify accession, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday during a visit to Sweden.

Along with Finland, Sweden applied to join NATO in May last year. Finland’s application was processed in record time and it became the 31st member of the alliance earlier this month.

Sweden’s accession has been held up by Turkey and Hungary, who have yet to ratify Sweden as a member.

“We look forward to soon welcoming Sweden as the 32nd (member of NATO). To be clear, we look forward to that to happen before the summit in July,” Austin told a news conference.

“We encourage our allies, Turkey and Hungary, to ratify Sweden’s accession as soon as possible.”

Austin was in Sweden to hold talks with Defense Minister Pal Jonson about the war in Ukraine and Sweden’s NATO application.

Sweden’s defense minister said Austin’s visit, which included a tour of the underground naval base at Musko, was signal of the United States’ commitment to Sweden’s security “on a bilateral basis” and was an opportunity for Sweden to showcase its military capabilities.

The Musko base contains a naval dockyard, workshops, offices, warehouses and a hospital, all excavated deep beneath the rocks of Musko island during the 1950s and 60s.

It was designed to service Sweden’s warships and submarines shielded from any enemy attack by hundreds of meters of rock.

The U.S. defense secretary’s visit also coincides with Sweden’s biggest military exercise for more than a quarter of a century, Aurora 23.

Around 700 U.S. marines will take part in the exercise as well as troops from Britain, Finland, Poland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Denmark, Austria, Germany and France.

In total, around 26,000 military personnel will take part in exercises around Sweden on land, at sea and in the air.

The Aurora exercises run until May 11.

Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington.

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