By Dusica Tomovic
A proposal for Montenegro to join NATO is likely to sail through the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, after President Barack Obama backed it strongly.
Top US officials testified on Wednesday at a hearing at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on whether Montenegro is ready to become a NATO member.
Hoyt Brian Yee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and head of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs in the State Department and Michael Carpenter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, will testify before 19 senators on whether Montenegro meets the rule-of-law and security conditions to join the Western alliance.
The Committee is expected to back Montenegro’s membership after President Barack Obama urged it to vote for it.
On June 28, the White House initiated the ratification process of Montenegro’s Accession Protocol to NATO, sending an initiative to the Senate for ratification.
“Montenegro’s accession to NATO will demonstrate to other countries in the Balkans and beyond that NATO’s door remains open to nations that undertake the reforms necessary to meet NATO’s requirements and contribute to the security of the Alliance, and is yet another milestone in advancing the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans,” Obama’s initiative reads.
“I ask the Senate to continue working with me in advancing a Europe whole, free, and at peace by providing its prompt advice and consent to ratification for this Protocol of Accession,” President Obama concluded.
Montenegro signed the accession protocol with NATO on May 19, marking the final stage of the country’s path to full membership of the alliance. The process is expected to take about a year-and-a-half but will be complete only when the US lawmakers have ratified the protocol.
Montenegrins, however, remain sharply divided about joining NATO and a recent poll suggested only about 45 per cent of the population support membership.
Pro-Russian opposition parties want the government to organise a referendum on the issue on the same day as general elections planned for the autumn.
NATO remains especially controversial among members of Montenegro’s large ethnic Serbian community because of the role it played in enabling Kosovo to break away from Serbia.
Many Serbs also resent the way the country’s pro-Western government has loosened ties with Montenegro’s traditional ally, Russia.
Some surveys conducted by the opposition parties over the past few months showed almost 60 per cent of respondents sought a referendum on membership.
But the government has repeated that Montenegro has no constitutional obligation to hold a referendum on membership of international organizations, noting that only a few NATO member countries organized such a vote.
The government has also said that the general elections scheduled for October 2016 will be a de-facto plebiscite on NATO membership.