Washington, 6 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded hearings yesterday on the planned enlargement of the NATO alliance. It heard pleas from American ethnic group leaders for Senate approval of expansion.
NATO has invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to become members. The U.S. Senate, and the parliaments of NATO's 15 other members, must approve. President Bill Clinton wants the U.S. to be the first NATO member to ratify the NATO treaty amendments. The Senate hopes to vote on expansion early next year.
Yesterday, the committee heard from the Central and Eastern European Coalition, an organization which says it represents 22 million Americans from 14 ethnic communities. Coalition spokesman Jan Nowak said the organization enthusiastically supports NATO enlargement. He said the U.S. will not be safe unless Europe is safe, and he said Europe will not be safe unless its smallest nations feel secure, and NATO will provide that security.
Mati Koiva, spokesman for the Joint Baltic American National Committee, said the organization -- which represents Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian American groups -- also supports enlargement. However, he also urged the U.S. to insist on a firm timetable for starting the next round of expansion and to support the membership applications of the Baltic republics.