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NATO: U.S. Senate Resumes Expansion Debate

Washington, 19 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Several influential U.S. senators have called on the Senate to approve NATO expansion and reject moves that would impose a freeze on the process of a second-wave enlargement.

The call came Wednesday as the Senate resumed debate on a resolution to enlarge NATO by approving membership for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Two-thirds of the 100 senators must ratify amendments to the NATO treaty in order to enable the three former communist countries to join.

Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) said NATO enlargement is necessary for the stability of Europe and is fundamental to the national security of the United States.

Biden said history shows that when there is a vacuum in Central and Eastern Europe, countries are forced to pursue their own individual security arrangements.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) also expressed strong support for taking in the new members. She said by ratifying the resolution on the expansion, the Senate would mark the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new century.

Mikulski, a Polish American, says NATO expansion will build an undivided, peaceful and democratic Europe for the new millennium.

She agreed with critics of the expansion that the enlargement will be expensive, but said the cost would be even greater if NATO is not widened.

Senator John Warner (R-Virginia) said, however, the NATO alliance has worked well in the past and should not be altered. Warner is sponsoring legislation that would place a three-year pause on a second round of expansion.

Warner says taking in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic would hurt other NATO hopefuls such as Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia. The senator says foreign investment likely would go to the new NATO countries and not to those left behind.

More than ten other senators, including William Roth (R-Delaware), circulated a letter Wednesday calling for ratification and urging defeat of the freeze proposal. Roth is chairman of the Senate's NATO Observer Group. Biden is the panel's co-chairman.

The letter said: "NATO must keep its doors open to those European democracies ready to bear the responsibility and burdens of membership."

On the Senate floor, Biden acknowledged that some have raised the possibility that enlargement may damage U.S. relations with Russia. But Biden said he believes that guaranteed stability in Central and Eastern Europe will enhance Russia's security.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-New York) says he believes that including the Baltic states in any future NATO expansion would be unacceptable to Russia.

Moynihan says moving the NATO alliance so close to Russia's borders would create a sense of insecurity for Russians, especially for its military. He says, for example, that the major Russian naval port of Kaliningrad would be encircled by such a move.