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Hungary鈥檚 parliament ratifies Sweden鈥檚 NATO bid, clearing the final obstacle to membership

Hungary鈥檚 parliament voted Monday to ratify Sweden鈥檚 bid to join NATO, bringing an end to more than 18 months of delays that have frustrated the alliance as it seeks to expand in response to Russia鈥檚 war in Ukraine. (Feb. 26)

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) 鈥 Hungary鈥檚 parliament voted Monday to ratify Sweden鈥檚 bid to join NATO, ending more than 18 months of delays that frustrated the alliance as it sought to expand in response to Russia鈥檚 war in Ukraine.

The vote, which passed with 188 votes for and six against, was the culmination of months of wrangling by Hungary鈥檚 allies to convince its nationalist government to lift its block on Sweden鈥檚 membership. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orb谩n submitted the protocols for approving Sweden鈥檚 entry into NATO in July 2022, but the matter stalled in parliament over opposition by governing party lawmakers.

Hungary鈥檚 decision paved the way for the second expansion of NATO鈥檚 ranks in a year after both Sweden and Finland applied to join the alliance in May 2022 following Russia鈥檚 full-scale invasion of Ukraine 鈥 an assault that was purportedly intended to prevent further NATO expansion.

Unanimous support among NATO members is required to admit new countries, and Hungary was the last of the alliance鈥檚 31 members to give its backing since Turkey ratified the request last month.

AP AUDIO: Hungary鈥檚 parliament ratifies Sweden鈥檚 NATO bid, clearing the final obstacle to membership.

AP correspondent Karen Chammas reports on Hungary鈥檚 vote to authorize Sweden鈥檚 entry into NATO.

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said his country was 鈥渘ow leaving 200 years of neutrality and nonalignment behind us.鈥

鈥淚t is a big step, we must take that seriously. But it is also a very natural step that we are taking. NATO membership means that we鈥檝e found a new home within a large number of democracies which work together for peace and freedom,鈥 he told a news conference in Stockholm.

Orb谩n, a right-wing populist who has forged close ties with Russia, has said that criticism of Hungary鈥檚 democracy by Swedish politicians soured relations between the two countries and led to reluctance among lawmakers in his Fidesz party.

But addressing lawmakers before the vote, Orb谩n said: 鈥淪weden and Hungary鈥檚 military cooperation and Sweden鈥檚 NATO accession strengthen Hungary鈥檚 security.鈥

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told 老澳门六合彩 that the vote 鈥渕akes NATO stronger, Sweden safer and all of us more secure.鈥

Stoltenberg said Sweden brings with it capable armed forces and a first-class defense industry, and it is spending at least 2% of national gross domestic product on defense, which is NATO鈥檚 target level.

The vote 鈥渁lso demonstrates that NATO鈥檚 door is open鈥 and that Russian President Vladimir Putin 鈥渄id not succeed in his attempt to close NATO鈥檚 door,鈥 he said.

On Monday, Orb谩n criticized Hungary鈥檚 European Union and NATO allies for pressuring his government in recent months to move forward on Sweden鈥檚 request to be part of the alliance.

鈥淗ungary is a sovereign country. It does not tolerate being dictated by others, whether it be the content of its decisions or their timing,鈥 he said.

Last weekend, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators visited Hungary and announced it would submit a joint resolution to Congress condemning Hungary鈥檚 alleged democratic backsliding and urging Orb谩n鈥檚 government to allow Sweden into NATO.

A presidential signature, which is needed to formally endorse the approval of Sweden鈥檚 NATO bid, was expected within a few days.

In the U.S., White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre urged the Hungarian government to quickly complete the process of bringing Sweden into the alliance.

鈥淗aving Sweden as a NATO ally will make the United States even safer,鈥 she said, speaking aboard Air Force One as President Joe Biden flew to New York for an appearance.

Kristersson, Sweden鈥檚 prime minister, met last week with Orb谩n in Hungary鈥檚 capital, where they appeared to reach a decisive reconciliation after months of diplomatic tensions.

Following their meeting, the leaders announced the conclusion of a defense industry agreement that will include Hungary鈥檚 purchase of four Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jets and the extension of a service contract for its existing Gripen fleet.

Orb谩n said the additional fighter jets 鈥渨ill significantly increase our military capabilities and further strengthen our role abroad鈥 and will improve Hungary鈥檚 ability to participate in joint NATO operations.

鈥淭o be a member of NATO together with another country means we are ready to die for each other,鈥 Orb谩n said. 鈥淎 deal on defense and military capacities helps to reconstruct the trust between the two countries.鈥

Robert Dalsj枚, a senior analyst with the Swedish Defense Research Agency, told the AP on Friday that Hungary鈥檚 decision to finally lift its opposition came only after Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, voted in January to ratify Stockholm鈥檚 bid.

After becoming the last NATO holdout with the Turkish vote, Orb谩n had to show some results for his government鈥檚 delays, Dalsj枚 said.

鈥淚n hiding behind Erdogan鈥檚 back, Orban could play, do some pirouettes,鈥 he said. 鈥淭hen when Erdogan shifted, Orban wasn鈥檛 really prepared for adjusting his position, and he needed something to show that could legitimize his turnaround. And that turned out to be the Gripen deal.鈥

Monday鈥檚 vote was just one matter on a busy agenda for lawmakers in the Hungarian parliament. A vote was also held on accepting the resignation of President Katalin Nov谩k, who stepped down earlier this month in a scandal over her decision to pardon to a man convicted of covering up a string of child sexual abuses.

After accepting Nov谩k鈥檚 resignation, lawmakers confirmed Tam谩s Sulyok, the president of Hungary鈥檚 Constitutional Court, as the country鈥檚 new president. He is set to formally take office on March 5.

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Associated Press writers David Keyton in Stockholm, Sweden; Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark; and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this story.

Spike is an Associated Press reporter based in Budapest, Hungary.