Washington, 12 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. House of Representatives (lower house) has approved legislation designed to help the Baltic states and Romania join NATO.
After more than an hour of debate last night, the House approved the legislation by voice vote. It now goes to the Senate (upper house). The measure is not expected to come up for debate there soon.
Among other things, the bill calls on the U.S. administration to support the early admission of Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to NATO and provides for U.S. assistance in helping these countries prepare for membership.
Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), the chief sponsor of the bill, said he is concerned that no emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe be left in a security vacuum. He said Romania, and the Baltic states in particular, must be regarded as strong contenders for NATO membership.
Tom Lantos (D-California) said expanding NATO is very much in America's security interests. Gerald Solomon (R-New York) said the people of Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union now have hope and must have the door open to NATO membership.
The bill was opposed by a few members. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) said Europe should now bear some of the cost of providing security there. And Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) said NATO's time has passed and that it is no longer needed.