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31 leaders of NATO member countries are meeting in Lithuania for key summit

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The 31 leaders of NATO member countries are meeting in Lithuania today.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

And pretty soon, there will be 32 of them. In a deal brokered with Turkey just before this summit got rolling, Sweden will be allowed to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance.

MARTÍNEZ: White House correspondent Asma Khalid is with us now from Lithuania's capital, Vilnius. Asma, good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So yesterday you were reminding us about why Turkey has been blocking Sweden's admission for more than a year. Turkey had these complaints that Sweden was not doing enough to clamp down on groups that it views as terrorists. So what broke the logjam here?

KHALID: Well, last night, NATO secretary general met with the president of Turkey and the prime minister of Sweden. And here he is, Jens Stoltenberg.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JENS STOLTENBERG: This is good for all of us. This is good for Sweden. Sweden will become a full member of the alliance. It's good for Turkey because Turkey is a NATO ally that will benefit from a stronger NATO. And then, of course, it's good for the whole alliance.

KHALID: And, Michel, really, you know, as part of this deal, Sweden agreed to a series of steps to cooperate with Turkey on counterterrorism issues. NATO also said it would create a new coordinator for counterterrorism. And notably, Sweden also agreed to reinvigorate Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. Turkey's president, in return, agreed to lift his opposition to Sweden joining NATO. And this comes as NATO is really trying to show that it's fully united in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. You know, it's worth remembering that it was, in fact, that very invasion that was the catalyst for Sweden, which had long been traditionally unaligned, deciding that it, in fact, wanted to join the NATO alliance.

MARTIN: Did the U.S. play any role in getting this deal done?

KHALID: Well, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters this morning that the United States had significant recent engagement in bringing this deal about. Biden and the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke for some 45 minutes on Sunday as Biden flew across the Atlantic Ocean. And the two men are scheduled to talk more in person later today in Lithuania. In a statement last night, Biden said he welcomed the deal and stands ready to work with Erdogan on enhancing defense and deterrence. Experts I spoke with last week said that Erdogan was trying to use this Sweden membership issue as leverage to get a deal on F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. That is - appears to be in the works, though it's not a done deal yet. The White House has been consulting with Congress, which ultimately would need to approve the deal.

MARTIN: So let's go back to the question of Ukraine. Ukraine, of course, has been trying to join NATO since, like, 2008. And President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is actually attending this summit and said he wants a clear signal that his country is on the path to membership. So what can you tell us about that?

KHALID: Well, the White House has been clear. It does not think Ukraine is ready to join NATO now, that bringing Ukraine into NATO at this moment would then bring NATO into war with Russia. Here's national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE SULLIVAN: The question is not Ukraine and NATO now here at Vilnius. The question is, what's the pathway towards Ukraine's future membership?

KHALID: And on that question, Michel, he does think the allies can come to some agreement. I will say, though, a big unanswered question is what exactly it means to be at war with Russia because in addition to the current invasion, there's the issue that Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine about a decade ago. And the White House has not been clear on how that issue - that would possibly affect Ukraine's bid to join NATO. Biden is slated to meet with Ukraine's president here tomorrow in Lithuania. So we'll see how that goes.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Asma Khalid in Vilnius, Lithuania. Asma, thanks so much for your reporting here.

KHALID: My pleasure. Good to speak with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered and host of the Consider This Saturday podcast, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Asma Khalid
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.