Washington, 16 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - A senior member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee is urging President Bill Clinton to make explicit endorsements for NATO membership for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) said today that Clinton should announce without delay that the United States will back those four countries for alliance membership when NATO convenes a summit of alliance leaders in Spain on July 8.
NATO is expected to invite the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join in the first round of expansion. The United States has been a leading advocate of expansion into Central and Eastern Europe, but Washington has also maintained a policy of not supporting specific candidates in advance of the summit.
Biden also says the United States should immediately begin talks with NATO's other 15 members over sharing the financial burdens of expansion. Official U.S. estimates say enlargement could cost between $27 billion to $35 billion over the next 12 years.
In Brussels, NATO's 16 member states today formally approved the agreement defining the Alliance's future relations with Moscow.
An official communique confirmed that the accord, negotiated by NATO's Secretary General Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, will be signed in Paris on May 27.
Russia has yet to formally approve the accord.
Meanwhile in Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin's envoy to the State Duma told deputies that Yeltsin plans to meet with lawmakers to explain Russia's position on relations with NATO. Aleksandr Kotenkov did not say when the meeting might take place.
A spokesman for the presidential press service, cited by Itar-Tass, however, said later that Yeltsin will meet with the speakers of both houses of Parliament and with leaders of parliamentary factions on Monday but did not specify what issues will be discussed.
Kotenkov also told the Duma that Primakov will brief deputies on the agreement reached with Solana, but only after it had been endorsed by Yeltsin and NATO member states. The lawmakers, however, asked Yeltsin to submit the text of the agreement to the Duma as soon as possible. The full text of the agreement, which both sides qualified as historic, has not been made public.