US President Joe Biden spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by phone Sunday as he flew on Air Force One to the United Kingdom, a White House official told CNN.
The leaders agreed to meet face-to-face during the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, to discuss Turkey-US relations and regional issues in detail, the Turkish presidency’s communication office said in a statement.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed to reporters that the two leaders spoke in a “45-minute, hour-long conversation.”
“They talked about a number of issues relative to the upcoming summit, including the war in Ukraine and Turkey’s really robust and stalwart support, including quite concrete military support for Ukraine’s defensive needs,” he said.
Turkey’s objections on Sweden: The call comes as Turkey continues to block Sweden’s bid to join the NATO alliance. Finland and Sweden formally applied to be part of the security alliance in May 2022, propelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Finland was admitted this April.
But Turkey’s objections to Sweden’s efforts continue, which could prove a major embarrassment and source of weakness for the alliance. All NATO member countries must agree on any additional country’s membership.
Turkey’s long-standing resistance centers on its claim that Sweden allows members of recognized Kurdish terror groups to operate in its country. A recent Quran burning demonstration in Sweden has exacerbated the issue.
On the call, Erdoğan told Biden that Sweden has taken some steps in the right direction in order for Turkey to support its bid “by making changes in the anti-terrorism legislation,” his office said. But these steps were not effective because “supporters of the terrorist organization” continue to “freely hold demonstrations in praise of terrorism,” he continued.
Biden’s role: Erdoğan is set to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Monday in Vilnius.
While Sweden’s government is playing a key role in the negotiations, NATO leaders are looking to Biden for what the US can offer to Turkey.
Turkey wants the US Congress to approve its purchase of US-made F-16 fighter jets. While US officials are reluctant to tie the Sweden issue and F-16s overtly, officials say that behind the scenes there is an obvious deal to be done.
In an interview with CNN, Biden said he was optimistic that Sweden would eventually be admitted to NATO, noting that Turkey is seeking to modernize its F-16 fleet, along with Greece, which has voted to admit Sweden.
“Turkey is looking for modernization of F-16 aircraft. And (Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos) Mitsotakis in Greece is also looking for some help,” Biden said. “And so, what I’m trying to, quite frankly, put together is a little bit of a consortium here, where we’re strengthening NATO in terms of military capacity of both Greece as well as Turkey, and allow Sweden to come in. But it’s in play. It’s not done.”
In his comments to reporters, Sullivan confirmed Biden and Erdoğan discussed the sale of F-16 jets to Turkey on Sunday, and that Biden “reiterated his long-standing and quite public commitment and support for the provision of F-16s to Turkey.”
CNN’s DJ Judd, Mariya Knight and Gul Tuysuz contributed to this report.