According to Reuters, Tillerson has written to the leaders of the U.S. Senate urging the ratification of Montenegro as the newest member of NATO. Tillerson said that Montenegro’s NATO membership is “strongly in the interests of the United States.”
Montenegro, a small country in the Western Balkans and once a part of former Yugoslavia, was formally invited into NATO in December 2015, and accession negotiations were concluded in May last year.
In order for a new member to join NATO, the accession treaty needs to be approved by the parliaments of all member countries. The U.S. Senate has yet to ratify the treaty before Montenegro can gain full NATO membership.
However, Montenegro’s NATO membership has caused friction with Russia, and also raised objections from some high ranking members of the U.S. Senate.
In his letter to the Senate, Tillerson argued that Montenegro’s membership in the alliance would support greater integration, democratic reform, trade, security and stability among its neighbors.
Russia has been adamant in condemning any further NATO expansion in Europe, and the delay in U.S. approval of Montenegro’s accession has been interpreted by some as an indicator that the Trump administration is ready to pursue a more conciliatory approach towards Russia.
Two Republican Senators, Rand Paul and Mike Lee, have blocked a quick vote in the full U.S. Senate for months. Paul has questioned the necessity of Montenegro’s NATO membership, saying that the small Balkan NATO could not play a significant role in defending U.S. interests.
Paul’s objection to Montenegro’s NATO membership led to a heated exchange between him and Senator, John McCain, who accused Paul of working for Vladimir Putin. Paul responded by Paul calling McCain “unhinged” and “past his prime.”
Montenegro’s NATO membership has already been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Despite earlier fears among the U.S. political establishment that Trump and Tillerson could undermine U.S. NATO commitment, several key people from Trump’s administration have reaffirmed their support for NATO.
In his letter to the Senate, Tillerson wrote that: “Montenegro’s participation in the May NATO Summit as full member, not as an observer, will send a strong signal of transatlantic unity. It is strongly in the interests of the United States that Montenegro’s membership in NATO be ratified.”
NATO currently has 28 member states. Albania and Croatia were the last countries to be admitted to NATO in 2009.
Source: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo