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Montenegrin Foreign Minister Sees NATO Membership By Late May

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic: "It’s going to happen, 100 percent." 
Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic: "It’s going to happen, 100 percent." 

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic has said he expects his country to become a full member of NATO at a summit in late May.

Darmanovic told Reuters news agency on February 23 that he has received "100 percent" assurance he will get the necessary backing of the U.S. Senate for Montenegro's bid to join the Western alliance.

Some officials have expressed concerns that U.S. President Donald Trump might oppose Montenegro’s NATO accession because of his desire to improve relations with Russia, which opposes the alliance’s enlargement in the Balkans.

"We understand that President Trump wants to make some breakthroughs in relations with Russia, especially in combating terrorism, but we can see no signs about sacrificing the principal American national interests," he said in English.

Darmanovic, a former envoy to the United States from 2010-16, said Montenegro had received bipartisan assurances on NATO membership.

"It’s going to happen, 100 percent," he said.

NATO membership has become a hot topic in the former Yugoslav republic of 650,000 people.

Last week, officials in Podgorica said they had evidence Russian government entities had been involved in an alleged plot to overthrow the government on election day in October.

Montenegro in October arrested about 20 people -- including two Russian citizens -- suspected of aiding the plot.

Western officials have also said they suspect Russia's involvement in the alleged plot.

Many in Montenegro and in the West say the aim of the coup would have been to halt the country’s drive toward NATO membership.

Russia has denied the accusations.

Montenegro's parliament on February 15 voted to strip two opposition leaders of the pro-Russian Democratic Front of immunity over their suspected involvement.

Montenegro’s bid requires ratification from all 28 NATO members.

Only the United States, Spain, Canada, and the Netherlands have yet to do so, but that is just because of procedural reasons, Darmanovic said.

Asked why Moscow would have backed the suspected October plot, Darmanovic told Reuters, "Not to have the whole Adriatic and Mediterranean under the NATO shield, but also maybe reshaping the geopolitics of the Western Balkans."

He added it was part of Moscow’s efforts to send a message to other countries in the region looking to join the European Union and NATO.

"Full-fledged NATO membership will be for sure the game-changer for all the stakeholders," he said. "It is not the same if you live under Article 5 or not," Darmanovic said, referring to the NATO principle that an attack against one member is considered an attack against all.

With reporting by Reuters
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