Hungary's Governing Party Says It's Ready to Approve Sweden's NATO Accession on Monday

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) -- A vote in Hungary's parliament on ratifying Sweden's bid to join NATO could come as early as Monday, according to a senior member of the country's governing Fidesz party. It would bring an end to more than 18 months of delays by the nationalist government that have frustrated Hungary's allies.

In a letter on Tuesday to the speaker of the parliament, the head of the Fidesz caucus, Máté Kocsis, requested that a vote be scheduled for the opening day of the spring session, which begins on Monday.

Kocsis wrote that Fidesz, which has repeatedly blocked a vote on the matter, will opt to support Sweden's bid to join the trans-Atlantic military alliance.

Hungary is the only one of NATO's 31 existing members not to have ratified Sweden's bid. The Hungarian government faces mounting pressure to act after delaying the move for more than 1 1/2-year since admitting a new country to the military alliance requires unanimous approval.

On Sunday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators visited Hungary and announced they would submit a joint resolution to Congress condemning alleged democratic backsliding in the country and urging Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to move forward on approving Sweden's accession as soon as possible.

Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said in Budapest on Sunday that members of the Hungarian government and Fidesz had refused to meet with the delegation -- something he called "strange and concerning" -- but said that the onus was on the long-serving leader to push for a vote.

"We are wise enough about politics here to know that if Prime Minister Orbán wants this to happen, then the parliament can move forward," he said.

Orbán has faced isolation over his obstruction of key decisions by his international allies, including putting up roadblocks to EU funding for cash-strapped Ukraine.

His government has insisted that Sweden's Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, make a visit to Budapest to assuage concerns that Swedish politicians had spoken disrespectfully about the health of Hungary's democracy.

But in a state of the nation speech in Budapest on Saturday, Orbán indicated that Hungary's legislature might soon relent.

"It's good news that our dispute with Sweden is nearing a conclusion," he said. "We are moving towards ratifying Sweden's accession to NATO at the beginning of the spring session of Parliament."

Orbán's press chief announced that Kristersson will visit Budapest on Friday for discussions on defense and security cooperation, adding that the results of the meeting will be announced in a news conference.

Reacting to the news of the impending vote, Sweden's Defense Minister Pål Jonson said in Stockholm that Sweden "naturally welcome this."

"It is of course very welcome," Jonson said.