Swedish PM says he's willing to meet Hungary's Orban to end deadlock over Sweden’s NATO membership

FILE - Hungary's Prime Minister Victor Orban briefs the media in Berlin, Germany, on Feb. 10, 2020. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban sent a letter to his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, inviting him to Budapest to discuss Sweden's accession into the NATO military alliance, Orban wrote Tuesday Jan. 23, 2023, in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File) (Markus Schreiber, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

STOCKHOLM – Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson has agreed to meet with his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán, who invited Kristersson to Budapest to discuss Sweden’s accession into NATO, Swedish media reported Thursday.

Kristersson said he agrees more dialogue between the countries would be beneficial. Orbán's invitation comes as Hungary and Turkey remain the only NATO members not to have ratified Sweden’s bid to join the defense alliance.

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“I look forward to discussing all these issues in depth with you in Budapest at a time convenient for both of us,” Kristersson wrote in a letter to Orbán, according to Swedish news agency TT. The Swede also pointed out that they will meet in Brussels on Feb. 1 for a European Council meeting.

Admission into NATO requires unanimity among all member countries, but more than a year of delays in Budapest and Ankara have frustrated other allies who want to expand the defense alliance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Turkish legislators have endorsed Sweden’s NATO membership, lifting a major hurdle on the previously nonaligned country’s entry into the military alliance. Lawmakers ratified Sweden’s accession protocol 287 to 55, with ruling party members saying the country’s tougher stance on Kurdish militants was key to winning approval.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who still has to sign the ratification, also previously has linked the ratification to Turkey’s desire to buy fighter jets from the U.S.

Turkey had been delaying Sweden’s membership for more than a year, accusing the country of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara regards as security threats. It sought concessions from Stockholm, including moves to counter militants.

Orbán, a right-wing populist who has been lukewarm in his support for neighboring Ukraine and maintained a friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has long promised that Hungary would not be the last NATO member to ratify Sweden’s bid.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming NATO’s 31st member, after Turkey’s parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.

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