As Joe Biden walks down the colonnade from the Oval Office into the rose garden with his two guests, he pats both of them on the back. Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson walks to Biden’s left, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to his right.

Three American, Swedish and Finnish flags are set up under a blue sky and intense sun. The symbolism has been chosen with care. Seated in the front row are Vice President Kamala Harris, her husband Doug Emhoff, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. The appointment with the two guests was so important to Biden that he accommodated him just under an hour before his planned departure for South Korea and Japan. Unity needs symbols, even if they are, well, photo ops.

Even the arrival of the guests was very demonstratively characterized by a close alliance. President Niinistö had flown from Stockholm to Washington after a two-day state visit to Sweden. The Prime Minister of Sweden and the President of Finland are visiting Washington just after both countries started the formal process of applying for NATO membership. On Wednesday, the ambassadors of Finland and Sweden handed over their written applications to join the alliance to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. Now it’s the turn of the 30 NATO member states, accession requires ratification by all parliaments.

These membership applications will not fail at the American Congress and certainly not at the US President. It’s not just a beautiful day, but a historic, very, very good day, says Biden. He assures his guests “strong support for the applications of two great democracies and two close, extremely capable partners to join the strongest and most powerful defense alliance in the history of the world”. You are dealing with a “significant moment”. Finland and Sweden would have the full, unconditional support of the US.

Of course, almost everything at this date revolves around the expected northern expansion of NATO and the trigger, Russia’s war against Ukraine. “NATO has proven to be an indispensable alliance… it is relevant. It is effective and needed now more than ever,” Biden says.

A strong, unified NATO is “the foundation of America’s security,” says Biden — a nod to the Republican Party, which has been growing critical of US military aid to Ukraine and skeptical of NATO. Individual MPs are already calling for a NATO exit.

US President Donald Trump once considered this as well. As a NATO ally, you enter into “a sacred obligation,” says Biden, referring to the mutual assistance clause: “An attack on one is an attack on all.” Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine has made NATO “stronger and more united,” says Biden. He asks the Finnish President to speak and puts on his legendary sunglasses.

The Finnish armed forces are “one of the strongest in Europe,” says President Niinistö. His country has consistently invested in developing its skills. “Finns’ willingness to defend their country is one of the highest in the world,” says the guest from Helsinki. What Niinistö fails to mention: So far, Finland has not met NATO’s two percent target, which is planned for 2024. However, after the start of the war on February 24, Helsinki announced that it would increase its defense spending.

Unlike Biden, Niinistö responds to Turkish concerns about NATO’s northern expansion – devoting himself to the elephant that is in the rose garden on this spring morning. “As a NATO ally, we will work for Turkey’s security, just as we will work for our own security,” says Niinistö. Those are forgiving, accommodating words, garnished with a little chutzpah given his country’s largest population. Finland, says Niinistö with regard to the tones from Ankara, “takes terrorism seriously, we condemn it in all its forms and are actively committed to combating it”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan left the door open to a yes to enlargement on Wednesday but urged concerns be taken seriously. He said Turkey had asked Sweden to extradite “30 terrorists” – a reference to members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party PKK.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Anderson said: “Today’s situation in Ukraine reminds us of the darkest days of European history.” With Sweden and Finland as members, NATO will be stronger. She also praised her country’s “sophisticated defense capabilities.”

While Anderson didn’t respond to Ankara’s threats, they sparked anger in Washington on Wednesday. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair, Democrat Robert Menendez, said the move increased public concerns about Turkey’s reliability as a US ally.

He recalled Ankara’s purchase of Russian anti-aircraft systems and its refusal to join wider Western sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine. Republican Senator and foreign policy chief Thom Tillis said he was confident the issue would eventually be resolved. The US has “lots of leverage” to force Turkey to cooperate, but he doesn’t want to let it go that far.