US Senate approves Montenegro's admission into Nato
Montenegro is set to become Nato's newest member after the US Senate voted overwhelmingly to ratify the tiny Balkan nation's entry.
Despite its size, Montenegro bears strategic importance. A former ally of Russia, the country is in the middle of a clash between the West and Moscow over influence in the Balkans.
Montenegro's membership gives Nato a contiguous border along the Adriatic coast.
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson earlier this month pressed the Senate to act quickly on Montenegro's admission.
He wrote in a March 7 letter to Senate leaders that the chamber's approval needed to come ahead of a summit scheduled for May that will include Nato heads of state and government.
Mr Tillerson said the US was one of the last remaining Nato members not to have given Montenegro's bid full parliamentary approval.
"Since Montenegro borders on five other Balkans nations, including Nato allies Croatia and Albania, its membership will support greater integration, democratic reform, trade, security, and stability with all of its neighbours," he wrote in the letter.
Montenegro will become the 29th member of the alliance. Nato invited the nation to start entry talks in December 2015, about nine years after the nation of 620,000 people split from Serbia in a 2006 referendum.
Russia strongly opposes the expansion of the Western military alliance in a region it considers part of its strategic sphere of interest. Wary of Russian influence in the still-volatile region, Nato wanted Montenegro to join the alliance.
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee report that accompanied the ratification said "an attack against Montenegro, or its destabilisation arising from external subversion, would threaten the stability of Europe and jeopardise United States national security interests".
Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the senior US military commander in Europe, said last week that failing to add Montenegro would send the wrong signal to other nations eager to join the alliance.
"If we were to lose this, it would set back many of the other countries and peoples, particularly in eastern Europe, who are looking forward to, and have their eyes set on, the West," Gen Scaparrotti told the Senate Armed Services Committee.