- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2015

In a move likely to raise tensions with Russia, the Obama administration Monday gave qualified support for the small eastern European nation of Montenegro to join NATO.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden told Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in a phone call Monday that the U.S. supports the country’s membership in NATO “provided that Montenegro continues pursuing reforms and boosts popular support” for the move, the White House said. The 28-member security alliance is due to make a decision on Montenegro’s membership in December.

“Contingent upon further progress in these areas, the United States is prepared to support extending a membership invitation to Montenegro at the December meeting of NATO foreign ministers,” the White House said in a statement.

Located in the Balkans on the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro has a population of about 620,000, including a large Serbian community with many who are still angry at NATO’s bombing of Serbia in the 1990s.

NATO’s last expansion was in 2009, when the Balkan nations of Croatia and Albania joined the alliance. But the push by Montenegro to join is taking place against the backdrop of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, violence prompted in part by Moscow’s view that Ukraine was becoming too close to the West.

Russia has warned against further expansion of NATO, while NATO members bordering Russia have called on the alliance to provide a greater show of strength against Moscow’s aggression.

The U.S. ambassador to Montenegro, Margaret Ann Uyehara, sparked some negative reaction when she expressed support in a recent blog post for the nation’s inclusion in NATO.

“It is not a coincidence that almost all the former Soviet countries in Europe have understood that joining NATO and the EU provide the strongest guarantees for their independence, security and economic development,” she wrote.

The Movement for Neutrality, an anti-NATO group in Montenegro, accused the ambassador of interfering in the nation’s internal affairs of state.

“The process of NATO integration has nothing to do with the rule of law in Montenegro or anywhere else. It is the geopolitical interest of the country which Uyehara represents,” said the movement’s director, Marko Milacic.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Djukanovic “agreed that Montenegro’s membership in NATO would firmly anchor Montenegro in Euro-Atlantic institutions, promote greater regional stability in the Balkans and demonstrate the credibility of NATO’s open-door policy.”

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