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NATO: U.S. Official Predicts Treaty Ratification Vote In 1998

Washington, 21 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - A senior U.S. official says negotiations on the first round of NATO enlargement could be completed this year and the U.S. Senate might be asked to ratify revisions to the NATO treaty as early as next year.

Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering made the statement Friday to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He appeared before the Committee to be confirmed as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs -- the third most powerful position in the U.S. State Department.

In wide-ranging testimony, Pickering also said Russia is particularly concerned about Ukraine and the Baltic states joining NATO. But he said the U.S. will continue to be unflinching and firm about keeping NATO membership open to all democratic states.

Pickering said the U.S. strongly supports a Baltic accord to help prepare the Baltic states for closer ties with the European Union and NATO.

He said the accord will strengthen a sense of security for the Baltic states but will not "involve the United States in specific security guarantees." Our correspondent says Pickering is expected to be quickly confirmed in his new post.