Washington, July 26 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Senate has given its endorsement to proposals to expand the NATO alliance to include former communist countries in central and eastern Europe.
By a vote of 81-16, the Senate adopted an amendment late yesterday calling for the inclusion of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia in the alliance.
The Senate measure also authorizes $60 million in U.S. assistance to help those four nations join NATO.
The amendment was the idea of former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole. He is the likely Republican Party nominee for president, and sponsored the measure before leaving the Senate to concentrate on his campaign.
The Senate bill is similar to a measure approved by the House of Representatives on Tuesday. However, the Senate amendment added Slovenia to the list of nations that Congress believes should be the first new NATO members.
The Senate NATO amendment was attached to the U.S. foreign aid appropriation for the financial year that begins in October. The Senate is expected to finish debate on the spending bill and vote later today.
Experts say the Congressional NATO bills are largely symbolic since the entire alliance of 16 nations has to approve expansion. No decisions on that are expected until NATO foreign ministers meet next December.