January 12, 2017 / 1:25 AM / 7 months ago

U.S. Senate panel approves Montenegro's NATO bid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution on Wednesday supporting Montenegro's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), trying for a second time to back the former Yugoslav republic's bid.

The committee passed a resolution in 2016, but the Senate did not vote on it before adjourning for the year. The U.S. Constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the 100-member Senate for approval of new NATO members.

Montenegro's membership would represent the alliance's first expansion since Albania and Croatia joined in 2009. Although the country is a long-time ally of Russia, relations with Moscow have been uneasy recently, given its government's pursuit of closer integration with the west.

Montenegro also joined European Union sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

"I'm pleased the committee has renewed its support for Montenegro to become NATO’s newest member, and I’m hopeful for swift action on this resolution in the full Senate," the committee's chairman, Republican Senator Bob Corker, said in a statement.

The committee voted shortly after concluding a nine-hour confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump's nominee to be secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. During the hearing, Tillerson expressed support for NATO despite Trump's past criticism of the alliance.

The vote count was not immediately available.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bernard Orr

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