Croatia should be invited to be a full member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as soon as possible, provided it satisfies criteria for membership, the american House of Representatives said in a resolution.
The resolution, passed late Wednesday by voice vote, said Croatia should be commended for the significant improvement in its cooperation with the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Rep. Elton Gallegly, chairman of the House International Relations Committee panel on Europe, said the one remaining impediment to Croatia's entry was removed when Gen. Ante Gotovina, the alleged Croatian war criminal, was arrested in Spain and transferred to The Hague, Netherlands to stand trial before the tribunal.
"His arrest last Thursday in the Canary Islands confirms the truthfulness of statements by the Croatian government that Gotovina was not hiding in Croatian territory," said Gallegly, who introduced the resolution.
U.S. and NATO officials have said talks on Croatia joining NATO could not start until Gotovina was behind bars.
Rep. Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said with Croatia starting accession talks with the European Union "it is perfectly appropriate to start looking ahead to full membership in NATO," which would "further anchor Croatia in the emerging zone of freedom that continues to sweep across the face of the Eurasian land mass."
He said NATO membership for former Warsaw Pact countries brings them into the Euro-Atlantic framework "and this resolution seeks to extend that successful policy."
Seven east European and Baltic nations joined NATO in 2004, bringing membership to 25 nations, the AP reports.