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news 28 Mar 17

US Senate Approves Montenegro as NATO Member

Montenegro has moved closer to becoming a NATO member after the US Senate approved the country’s admission into the military alliance.

Dusica Tomovic
BIRN
Podgorica
All 28 of NATO's members must ratify Montenegro's accession protocol before it can join the alliance. Photo: whitehouse.gov.

The US Senate approved on Tuesday a treaty allowing Montenegro to join NATO, with overwhelming majority 97 out of 100 members voting in support of a treaty.

Although the parliaments in the Netherlands and Spain are yet to vote on Podgorica's bid to join the alliance, Montenegrin government hopes the process would be completed by May when the next NATO summit is scheduled.

The Senate vote came after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 21 wrote to senators urging them to ratify Montenegro's membership, saying it was "strongly in the interests of the United States".

Tillerson argued that Montenegro's membership would support the country's democratic reform, trade, security and foster stability among its neighbours.

"Montenegro's participation in the May NATO Summit as a full member, not as an observer, will send a strong signal of transatlantic unity," Tillerson wrote.

The only two ‘no’ votes in the procedural ballot on Monday came from Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee, both of whom had been blocking the progress on the vote for several months.

Paul warned Washington against spreading itself too thinly at a point when its military is involved in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

"Montenegro in NATO will antagonise Russia while doing nothing to advance US national security," Paul said during the floor debate on Monday.

"Most Americans can't find Montenegro on a map," he added in a sharply-worded Senate speech.

"Are you willing to send your kids there to fight?" he asked.

Paul has suggested that recruiting Montenegro, which had once been a staunch Russian ally, could lead to heightened tension with Moscow, possibly even war.

Moscow strongly opposes the expansion of NATO to the east, including the Balkans, however, and the delay in US approval of Montenegro's protocol had raised doubts about whether Donald Trump's new administration was ready to stand up to Russia over the issue.

Russia’s allies and Kremlin followers in Montenegro had hoped that Trump's friendlier attitude towards Moscow could mean ratification being blocked.

Montenegro gained NATO candidate status in 2010. All 28 of NATO's members must ratify Montenegro's accession protocol before it can join the alliance.

Accession still remains a highly controversial issue inside the country. An opinion poll conducted in December 2016 had only 39.5 per cent of Montenegrins in favour of NATO membership.

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