President Joe Biden begins a five-day swing through Europe on Sunday with a focus on NATO gathering later this week in Lithuania, as allied countries look to boost support for Ukraine and the possibility of Sweden's approval to join the military alliance.
"We're looking forward to a busy week in Europe. And we're looking forward to the president being able to further solidify, strengthen and give momentum to the strong united alliance that has been standing up so effectively against Russian aggression," White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday afternoon.
The president begins his trip in London, where he will meet King Charles III at Windsor Castle on July 10, the first time Biden will meet with the king since his coronation. First Lady Jill Biden represented the United States at the coronation with their granddaughter Finnegan in May.
"While in London, he will meet with King Charles at Windsor Castle and engage with a forum that will focus on mobilizing climate finance especially bringing private finance off the sidelines for clean energy deployment and adaptation in developing countries," Sullivan said Friday.
Biden is also expected to meet with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak -- the sixth time the leaders will meet in the past six months. They last met at the White House in June.
From London, Biden heads to Vilnius, Lithuania, to attend the 74th NATO summit -- which is expected to center around the alliance's support for Ukraine amid Russia's ongoing invasion.
"Ukraine will not be joining NATO coming out of this summit," Sullivan stressed, but he added there will be discussion of "what steps are necessary as it continues along its path."
"Vilnius will be an important moment on that pathway towards membership because the United States, our NATO allies and Ukraine will have the opportunity discuss the reforms that are still necessary for Ukraine to come up to NATO standards. So, this will, in fact, be a milestone. But Ukraine still has further steps it needs to take before membership in NATO," Sullivan added.
Ukraine's counteroffensive is underway and has allowed their forces to regain territory in the southeast, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says he'd like it to be accomplished sooner. He's repeatedly asked the U.S. for F-16 fighter aircraft, which he says would give them an "opportunity to move faster."
The Biden administration had resisted that request but is now working with allies to train Ukrainians on F-16s and eventually help get them jets for the war.
The NATO summit also takes place with an additional member, Finland, after being approved in April, and a lingering question of whether Turkey and Hungary will drop objections to Sweden joining the alliance.
All NATO members must approve new ones, so Erdoğan’s opposition is effectively a veto. The Turkish president is not alone; Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is also holding out, but Hungary has signaled it won’t be the final roadblock. Erdoğan has continued to insist that Sweden has not done enough to crack down on people in Sweden with ties to Kurdish militants and other groups that Turkey has deemed terrorists.
Sweden has tried to appease Turkey, including passing a new anti-terrorism law that went into effect June 1. But Erdoğan’s definition of terrorists is pretty expansive, and often includes dissidents and others critical of his regime. And even if Turkey has a case, Sweden has to follow due process and rule of law and can’t just, say, extradite a bunch of people on a whim. A recent Quran-burning outside a Stockholm mosque has added to tensions, as Turkey interprets these as Sweden’s permissive attitude toward anti-Islamic protests rather than freedom of speech.
Sweden, alongside NATO allies, has been doing some furious diplomacy to try to persuade Turkey to approve Sweden’s bid. Swedish and Turkish officials talked Thursday, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying they made “good progress” but issues remained unresolved. Stoltenberg will meet Monday with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Erdoğan, a day before the Vilnius summit kicks off.
Until then, the impasse prevails. Which means the thing everyone really wanted to happen — that Sweden would join NATO, becoming its 32nd member — might not happen this week in Lithuania. This will deny NATO its unity narrative in Vilnius, something the alliance very much wants to project.
But it is more than just the storyline: Sweden is cooperating and planning closely with NATO, but it remains outside the alliance, and its mutual defense protections. If Erdoğan won’t budge here, after everyone shuttling to meet with Turkish officials, after Swedish concessions, and during the military alliance equivalent of the Super Bowl, it’s not clear when he would — which could leave Sweden stuck outside the alliance at time when NATO is trying to redefine and reinvigorate itself amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.