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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization expanded to 28 nations on Wednesday when Albania and Croatia officially joined the alliance. The other allies are now treaty bound to protect the two new members from outside attack.
Both Balkan countries formally deposited their ratification documents at the State Department in Washington. NATO's founding charter, the 1949 Washington Treaty, is held in the U.S. capital and dropping off the paperwork there is all candidates' final step toward membership.
The Croatian and Albanian leaders will now take their place at the alliance's 60th anniversary summit later this week on the Franco-German border. Their flags will be raised at NATO headquarters in Brussels in an April 7 ceremony.
Macedonia had long hoped to join along with them, but its membership aspirations were frozen last year by Greece. Athens objects to the former Yugoslav republic calling itself Macedonia, saying it implies a claim on the northern Greek province of that name.