40 lawmakers press Kerry on NATO expansion

Forty lawmakers of both parties have written to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to make NATO's expansion to eastern Europe a “key priority” amid Russian pushback in Ukraine.

The letter doesn't mention Moscow by name but warns ominously of “outside forces” threatening the ex-communist bloc's westward shift. It calls for NATO to grant Macedonia and Montenegro membership during the annual summit in September while helping pave the way for Georgia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina to eventually join the fold.

“It is our firm belief that the genuine prospect of NATO membership for the current group of aspirant states will further strengthen democratic institutions and values and increase stability and security in the region,” the letter states. “In contrast, failure to recognize and reward their significant efforts could discourage aspirant countries from pursuing further democratic reforms and weaken their commitment to partnering with Euro-Atlantic institutions.”

The letter goes on to say that the Ukrainian government's decision to abandon an agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia “raises concerns about back-sliding on democracy and the possibility that states in the region will be pressured by outside forces seeking to divide the continent and undermine the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”

In addition to Russia, the push is opposed by NATO member Greece, which has vetoed Macedonia's membership over a dispute surrounding the country's name. 

The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and a member of the Macedonia Caucus. Joining him as lead author was Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs panel.

“As we approach the 2014 NATO Summit,” Engel said in a statement, “it is important that the United States supports the aspirations of those states which seek to integrate with the Alliance.”

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