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Reuters: Rumsfeld in Montenegro to discuss NATO, war on terrorism

Published date: 27.09.2006 17:14 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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PODGORICA (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Montenegro on Tuesday to discuss how the newly independent country could help in the war on terrorism.

Montenegro's ability to provide troops in Afghanistan and Iraq will be raised in talks between Rumsfeld and Montenegrin officials, said Eric Ruff, a Pentagon spokesman.

"Montenegrins have indicated that they would like to be part of the effort to fight the global war on terror and ... their willingness is something they'd like to discuss further with the secretary when he comes," Ruff said on the flight from Washington.

Rumsfeld is the highest-level U.S. official to visit the former Yugoslav republic since its independence in June.

He will also discuss Montenegro's integration into Europe, its cooperation with transatlantic groups and its plans for NATO partnership.

Rumsfeld will then head to Albania for the Southeastern European Defense Ministerial, a meeting of the defense ministers of eight countries, where he plans to discuss NATO cooperation and Balkan integration. Later this week, he will attend an informal meeting of NATO defense ministers in Slovenia.

Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who won a resounding re-election victory this month, has said Montenegro should seek a "European quality of life".

Montenegro could sign an agreement establishing a formal relationship with the European Union this year, according to Djukanovic.

Djukanovic expects NATO leaders at the November summit meeting in Riga to allow Montenegro into the Partnership for Peace program - a program of formal cooperation and consultation between NATO and 23 non-NATO nations in the Euro-Atlantic area.

The United States has agreed to help Montenegro meet minimum requirements for that NATO partnership program, according to a senior U.S. defense official.

Many European nations have contributed troops to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including Albania.

The United States has 142,000 troops in Iraq and military officials say that level is unlikely to decline before mid-2007 at the earliest.

The war remains unpopular among Americans and has become a critical campaign issue ahead of the November elections to determine control of the U.S. Congress.