US Senate vote clears way for NATO expansion

The United States Senate has voted unanimously to support NATO admission for seven central and eastern European nations.

During a November summit held in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, NATO invited the seven former-communist nations – Estonia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – to join the alliance. However, the current NATO member states must finally ratify the expansion.

Flanked by the seven nations' foreign ministers and several high-ranking American dignitaries at the White House, US President George W. Bush, said:

"It was here, 58 years ago today, that President Harry Truman announced the end of the war in Europe, and the people of America and Europe celebrated that victory together. This year on V-E Day we mark another kind of victory in Europe."

President Bush said freedom for the seven nations had been subverted as the Iron Curtain rose at the end of World War II.

"The defeat of Nazi Germany brought an end to armed conflict in Europe, but that victory did not bring true peace and unity to the continent," he said.

"For millions, tyranny remained in a different uniform."

He noted how central and eastern European nations have been steadfast supporters of the war on terrorism and in the "battle of Iraq".

Bulgaria was one of the most outspoken supporters of Bush's policies in the buildup to war in Iraq.

"The peoples of [these countries] have a fresh memory of tyranny, and they know the consequences of complacency in the face of danger," Mr Bush said.

"Time and again they have demonstrated their desire and ability to defend freedom against its enemies. They have proved themselves to be allies by their action.

"And now it is time to make them allies by treaty," he added.

The president urged the remaining NATO countries to ratify the expansion as soon as possible.

"These nations will make NATO stronger," he said. "And we need that strength for all the work that lies ahead."

Of the current 19 NATO member states, 16 have yet to ratify the expansion.

If the expansion is approved the total number of troops at Nato's disposal would be swelled by around 200,000 and a number of key military bases will be available to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces.


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