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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Senate, Not Kremlin, Could Halt NATO Drive

WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials are increasingly convinced they can get their European allies and the Russians to go along with NATO expansion, but critics say they should worry about another hurdle -- the U.S. Senate.

Now that Boris Yeltsin has been re-elected president of Russia, U.S. officials say they hope to reach an understanding with the Kremlin so NATO can add several Central European members without sparking Russian rearmament.

The Americans and some of their European allies say a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in December is likely to call for a NATO summit in 1997 that would name the countries with which NATO would start enlargement talks.

At the top of the list are Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, according to the conventional allied wisdom. The former Yugoslav republic of Slovenia has some support as well.

But there are more questions than ever on Capitol Hill. Before he left the Senate to run for president last month, Republican Bob Dole of Kansas urged that the NATO expansion process be accelerated, but other senators like the widely respected Democrat Sam Nunn of Georgia have raised serious questions about the project.

The Senate last month passed an amendment asking President Bill Clinton to submit a report on NATO expansion.

The amendment must still clear a conference committee with the House. But it passed the Senate, which would by law have to approve any treaty on NATO expansion, by 97-0.

Nunn said the president's report should discuss how NATO would defend the new members and the cost of expansion.

He noted a Congressional Budget Office study released in March estimated the cost of expanding to include Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, which is also considered a candidate, could total $61 billion over 15 years, shared among the existing and new members.

One former Clinton White House official, Charles Kupchan, warns there is a big question mark over the Senate's attitude toward NATO expansion to the East.

"I think the debate will take on a different tone when people say, 'Are you telling me the people of Indiana have to pledge their lives to these countries?'" said Kupchan, senior fellow for Europe on the Council on Foreign Relations.