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Support in Congress for NATO Expansion Not Unanimous

Washington, July 9 (RFE/RL) -- Two measures pending in the U.S. Congress indicate that Congressional support for the rapid expansion of the NATO alliance is not unanimous.

The U.S. Senate has approved an amendment that will require the president to submit a detailed report on both the financial and political costs to the United States of expanding the 16-member alliance.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is reviewing proposed legislation that is designed to speed up the admission into NATO of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. There is likely to be action this week on both measures.

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, the likely Republican Party presidential candidate, has made rapid expansion of the NATO alliance a campaign issue. In a speech last month, Dole said the three central European states should be admitted to the alliance no later than 1998. In fact, Dole said there should be a formal expansion ceremony in Prague on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Agreement that led to the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia.

Dole is campaigning against President Bill Clinton, the Democrat seeking a second and final term. The election is November 5th.

"You should make no mistake about it, NATO will expand," Clinton said on Monday before a meeting with visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. However, Clinton refused to be pinned down on the timing.

Clinton said that NATO's expansion, under the Partnership for Peace plan, "has been a disciplined, open process since 1994.

"I want to reiterate my conviction that the process will continue and will bear fruit in the way that we have done it," Clinton said. He said the alliance will take further steps when its foreign ministers meet in December.

NATO has not singled out any nation or nations likely to be the first of the new members. However, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are frequently mentioned as the probable candidates because they have made the most progress toward democratization and free market economics since the fall of communism.

The proposal in the House of Representatives agrees with that assessment and says NATO should speed up the process of taking them in. The House proposal also includes an appropriation of 60 million dollars in U.S. aid to help pay for bringing those three countries up to full membership.

The House International Relations Committee is scheduled to review the legislation on Wednesday and pass it along to the full House for a debate and a vote.

The Senate, however, wants a thorough investigation of the expansion issue.

"When you enlarge an alliance that has been as successful as the NATO alliance, there are serious questions that need to be asked, both by the existing NATO members and by the new prospective members," says Senator Sam Nunn (D-Georgia).

Nunn is the senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He was the sponsor of the amendment requiring a White House report. The amendment was approved last week by a 97-0 vote. It was attached to the Defense Department budget bill for next year. The Senate is to vote on the measure this week.

Nunn cited a Congressional Budget Office study which concluded that the U.S. share of the cost of NATO expansion could range between 5,000 million and 19,000 million dollars.

Nunn also said that, among other things, there needs to be a comprehensive review of the impact of NATO expansion on Russia and its foreign policy. Russia has made it clear that it opposes alliance expansion.

Nunn's amendment would require that the president submit his findings to the Congress no later than next December 1st.

The U.S. cannot unilaterally expand NATO. However, the Congress can put pressure on the U.S. Government to use its considerable influence within the alliance and encourage NATO to move faster.