The USA expects people who will make sure that Montenegro fulfills the obligations arising from NATO membership to be in the key ministries in the new Montenegrin government, Mr Matthew Palmer, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and Special Representative for the Western Balkans said in an interview with Voice of America. Mr Matthew Palmer also stressed that Washington would closely follow the moves of the future government.
VOA: Montenegro is in the process of forming a new government. What does the United States expect from the new cabinet and prime minister?
Mr Palmer: I would like to emphasize that we expect the next government to do the same as any government in Montenegro – to remain committed to the European path, to fulfill its obligations as a NATO member, to cooperate well and closely with the United States in supporting a prosperous and stable future, to be committed to the reforms necessary to progress towards membership of the European Union. That is what we expect from the next Montenegrin government and what we expected from the previous one.
VOA: Does the USA have any role or stance on personal solutions and members of the new government? The Democratic Front sent a letter to the American ambassador to Montenegro, in which they essentially claimed that the prime minister-designate for the composition of the new government was under pressure from foreign diplomats not to give the leaders of that coalition a seat in the cabinet.
Mr Palmer: Our partnership is with Montenegro, not with any particular political party or leader. It has nothing to do with individuals. However, we expect and hope that there will be people in positions in the next government of Montenegro who we can work with, who are committed to the future that I have already talked about. People who understand the responsibilities and obligations of NATO membership and candidates for membership in the European Union. Therefore, we hope that there will be people in the key ministries in the next government who can be good partners in these efforts. We hope for that and we expect that from the next government.
VOA: Do you think that the leaders of the Democratic Front can be those partners? Does Washington oppose that?
Mr Palmer: It is not my job to select or identify individuals for specific responsibilities. But I want to emphasize that it is important to have people in key ministries who are ready not only to be partners of the United States, but also of European allies in advocating for a positive and European future and to ensure that Montenegro fulfills its obligations as a NATO member. The United States is committed to defending Montenegro. We are committed to fighting in the defense of Montenegro. Montenegro is committed to the defense of the United States and other members of the Alliance. That is a serious responsibility. It is an obligation that we have taken on freely and to which we remain committed. We need strong partners in Montenegro who also understand the importance of this commitment.
VOA: Are you concerned about Montenegro’s pro-Western future, given the fact that the new parliamentary majority also includes parties opposed to NATO membership, advocating stronger ties with Putin’s Russia and publicly opposing Western sanctions against Moscow? previous government supported?
Mr Palmer: In Montenegro, there is strong support for the country’s western orientation. The Montenegrin public supports the European future and NATO. That is the foundation on which we would like to build further. I am convinced that the relations between the USA and Montenegro are strong and solid and that there is a lot of potential for further development, that Montenegro will remain committed to the European path. Whatever government is the result of this process, I hope it will reaffirm its readiness to implement the reforms necessary to progress towards EU membership. That is our vision of the future of Montenegro. This is the vision that the Montenegrin people have and I hope and expect that the next government will share it.
VOA: How do you comment on the role of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the election campaign and in the formation of the government?
Mr Palmer: People in Montenegro have every right to expect that the representatives of those institutions that have been entrusted with the responsibility to form the government through the democratic process, and then to govern, will be the ones to lead the process. Montenegro held democratic elections that were fair and free. And it elected political leaders to represent the interests of the Montenegrin public in government institutions. That is parliamentary democracy. Therefore, the ongoing negotiation process should be led by the leaders of the political parties which this responsibility has been entrusted to. Does that mean that the church has no right to express its opinion? Everyone has the right to do so, just like civil society and other institutions and individuals in Montenegro have the right to do so. However, the ultimate responsibility for forming a government lies with the political leaders entrusted with it.
VOA: What do you think the future government should change or do differently from the previous one?
Mr Palmer: I think there is certainly room to do more in the area of reforms. In recent years, we have also pointed out the areas in which Montenegro is lagging behind, especially when it comes to media freedom, the fight against corruption and the rule of law. These are key areas, which are important for NATO members, which is not only an alliance based on interests, but also on principles. And of course, they are crucial for membership in the European Union. Our vision of a European Montenegro, fully integrated into the family of European countries, requires progress in implementing these reforms. And whatever government is the result of this process can consider the United States a partner in these efforts.
VOA: Minority national parties are not ready to be part of the new government. What is your message to them and the new majority?
Mr Palmer: Our message to the representatives of different ethnic communities in Montenegro is that we see Montenegrin experience as a successful, multi-ethnic democracy. And we respect that and we think that it can be a model for the region. Also, we want to keep the channels of communication open, not only with the government but also with the representatives of the ethnic communities in Montenegro. I often travel to Montenegro, of course we have an ambassador in Podgorica, we have good relations with representatives of various ethnic groups. And we want to maintain those relations, further develop and strengthen them, and we are committed to maintaining the multi-ethnic character of Montenegrin democracy.
VOA: Can the partnership between America and Montenegro be strengthened with the new government in Podgorica, and will the upcoming US elections have any impact on bilateral relations between the two countries?
Mr Palmer: America’s commitment to the Western Balkans and partnership with Montenegro is consistent from administration to administration. No matter what happens in the United States on November 3 (election day), we will remain committed to that relationship. Our vision of a European Montenegro and a promise to the Montenegrin people that they can rely on friendship, support and partnership with the United States will remain. “I believe that the interests of the United States go beyond American and Montenegrin politics and will lead us on the path to a brighter, more prosperous, stable and European future for the region and Montenegro.
VOA: Will you follow the government’s future moves closely?
Mr Palmer: Of course. This is an important partnership for us. We will remain active in the region and in Montenegro. We will remain engaged, not only with the political class, but also with the representatives of the wider part of Montenegrin society. We will remain engaged with the media, civil society, the church, representatives of the business community. These are all parts of Montenegro that, in the opinion of the United States, should contribute to the broader picture and the future in terms of which we all agree.