The Bush administration is poised to remove US visa requirements for the citizens of seven allied countries.
US congressional aides told The Associated Press that US President George W Bush plans to announce on Friday that Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and South Korea will be added to the US visa waiver program as early as next month. The White House would not confirm the list, but Bush was scheduled to make an announcement on the visa waiver program today.
The congressional aides spoke on condition of anonymity because the president will announce the decision.
The administration has sought to reward close allies with visa-free travel but has met resistance from some lawmakers, who worry that the visa waiver program makes it easier for terrorists to slip into the United States.
The program currently includes 27 countries, among them most of Western Europe. Exclusion has been a sore point among some new NATO allies that have supported US operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of those countries, including Poland, did not make today's list because they could not meet admission requirements.
The seven countries to be announced today had been widely expected to meet requirements and be included. Negotiations with Greece, which has long sought to join other Western European countries in the program, have faltered, prompting complaints from the Greek government and Greek-American groups that it is being punished because of unrelated political disagreements with Washington.
The administration's move to waive some criteria for admission to allow the seven countries in before the end of Bush's term in January is provoking congressional criticism.