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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Albright Makes Case to Senate For Planned NATO Expansion

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Tuesday opened the administration's case for Senate ratification of NATO expansion, saying that admitting three new members served vital U.S. interests.

"A larger NATO will make America safer, NATO stronger and Europe more peaceful and united. That is the strategic rationale," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A NATO summit in Madrid in July decided to expand the alliance that currently has 16 members for the first time in 15 years by inviting former Warsaw Pact members Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to apply to join.

Republicans and Democrats expressed support for the principle of expansion on Tuesday. Under NATO's plan, the first three applicants would join in 1999, the 50th anniversary of the alliance's foundation.

"We must embrace these democracies," said the committee's Republican chairman, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, while ranking Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware said expansion was "in the best security interests" of the United States.

But both men underscored the need for agreement with current NATO members on the costs of expansion. Helms said ratification "may very well succeed or fail" on whether Albright could dissuade the allies from what he said was their idea that Washington would bear most of the costs.

A preliminary estimate by the administration earlier this year put the total cost at up to $35 billion over 10 years, but said the U.S. share would be only about $2 billion.

Albright said the United States and its allies were working to produce a common estimate of costs by December.

The full Senate is expected to vote on ratification next spring.

Albright dismissed fears that NATO expansion would create a new threat from Russia, which has strongly opposed the move.