BRUSSELS, Feb. 17 (Xinhua) -- NATO on Tuesday asked Slovenia to complete the ratification of the accession protocol for Croatia to allow the latter to officially join the North Atlantic alliance at a NATO summit in early April.
"We hope to welcome Croatia and Albania fully to the NATO table at the April summit," NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters.
He said out of the 26 NATO allies, only Slovenia, the Netherlands and Greece have not ratified the accession protocols for Albania and Croatia. The Netherlands and Greece are expected to do so quite quickly, he added.
"We hope Slovenia will find a way ... to ratify in time for Albania and Croatia to also be able to ratify the adapted Washington Treaty and deposit their instruments of ratification in time for the summit," said Appathurai.
For the two countries to become NATO members, all 26 allies must first ratify the accession protocols before these two candidates can ratify the adapted founding treaty and deposit their ratification documents with the U.S. Department of State.
"There is not without a number of steps ahead in this political process. We hope that all 26, including Slovenia, will be in a position to allow it to go forward," said Appathurai.
But he emphasized that NATO cannot intervene in Slovenia's internal affairs. He added that Albania's entry would not be affected by the Slovenia-Croatia impasse as Albania and Croatia are treated as individual candidates by NATO and by its member states.
Slovenian lawmakers approved Croatia's entry into NATO last week. But two nationalist groups in Slovenia, which are opposed to Croatia's NATO entry because of territorial disputes between the two countries, have filed an application for a referendum on this issue. A "no" vote in a referendum would annul the lawmaker's approval.
The groups now need to get 40,000 signatures to make a referendum happen. But even if a referendum were not ultimately possible, Croatia's accession might be delayed as the two political groups have at least five weeks to collect signatures from Slovenian citizens. The NATO summit is barely six weeks away.
The groups have said they might withdraw their initiative if Slovenian lawmakers pass a law on the country's territorial disputes with Croatia.
Slovenia and Croatia have not been able to completely draw their land and sea borders since their independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
Slovenia, a member state of the European Union (EU) since 2004, blocked Croatia's accession negotiations with the EU in December.