Washington, 8 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Senate voted today to admit seven former communist Eastern European nations to join NATO.
The vote of the 100-member Senate was 96 to 0. Four members were absent. Under the U.S. Constitution, two-thirds of the senators present must vote in favor of an international treaty for it to be ratified. The U.S. House of Representatives, the other chamber of Congress, does not vote on treaties.
When the national legislatures of the other 18 NATO members give similar approval, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia will become full members of the alliance. NATO says that is expected by May 2004.
Just before the vote, Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said today will be remembered as one of the most important dates in the histories of the NATO applicants.
Senator Joseph Biden, the vice chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said it is fitting that today's historic vote comes on the 58th anniversary of V-E Day, which marks the defeat of Nazi Germany.
There are currently 19 nations in the Atlantic alliance. If other NATO members approve the admission of the applicants, the alliance will grow to 26 members.