Correction: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated the location of two interviews, both of which took place in Porto Montenegro.
US President Donald Trump suggested this week that this tiny Balkan country could be the crucible for a new global conflict.
Montenegro begs to differ.
“We have no intentions whatsoever to start World War III, we are too small for that,” the country’s foreign minister, Srdjan Darmanovic, told CNN in an exclusive interview. “It was fun to hear about it, actually like a good joke, but we are a very peaceful nation.”
The newest NATO member was thrown into the spotlight when Trump described its people as “very aggressive” and warned during an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Tuesday.
Carlson questioned why the US should have to defend Montenegro, as required by Article 5 of the NATO treaty.
Trump responded: “I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. … They are very strong people. They are very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you are in World War III.”
Darmanovic took a generous view of Trump’s comments, suggesting the US President was making a broader point. “I think President Trump actually did not speak on Montenegro. He spoke on 2% on financing and contributing to NATO, and Montenegro was just picked up as an example – maybe because we are one of the tiniest countries in the alliance,” the foreign minister said.
Montenegro joined NATO in 2017. Its membership bid was opposed by Russia, which maintains close relationships with neighboring Serbia. The Montenegrin government accuses Moscow of orchestrating a coup as part of an effort to prevent it joining NATO.
Darmanovic agreed that Trump’s comments would be welcomed in Moscow. “It might be music for their ears, but still I believe that we are not less safe,” he said. “We really believe that Article 5 is unconditional and rock-solid.”
In any case, Trump’s comments appear to be at odds with his recent actions: He signed a NATO communique that explicitly endorsed Article 5 at a summit in Brussels, Belgium last week.
Montenegro is currently in the midst of its busy tourist season, and it’s hard to find a piece of the coastline that’s not dotted with colorful parasols and beach towels.
In the swanky cafes lining the exclusive Porto Montenegro waterfront development, Trump’s remarks were met with incredulity.
“Maybe he makes a mistake? No, do I look like an aggressive man? I think no!” one resident said, laughing.
“I don’t know what to say, I think this is really stupid,” another local told CNN.
A NATO official described the collective defense clause enshrined in Article 5 as “unconditional and ironclad.”
“It means that an attack on one is an attack on all,” the official told CNN. “President Trump has made clear that the US is fully committed to NATO and our alliance is stronger than ever.”
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh and Milena Veselinovic reported from Podgorica, Montenegro. Lauren Said-Moorhouse wrote from London. Laura Smith-Spark contributed reporting.