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UPDATED: 10:07, September 27, 2006
Rumsfeld says U.S. backs Montenegro's bid for NATO membership
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U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that the U.S. government will extend full support for Montenegro's bid to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program initially, and ultimately the military alliance itself.

Rumsfeld made the gesture at a joint press conference after holding talks with Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in Montenegro's capital, Podgorica.

According to Rumsfeld, Montenegro has pledged to participate in NATO's peacekeeping operations, but whether it will send troops to Iraq or Afghanistan is yet to be discussed further.

Djukanovic said his newly independent country is ready to join international peacekeeping operations and sign related agreements with the United States, to support the U.S.-led global campaign against terrorism.

He added that Montenegro is willing to strengthen its cooperation with the United States in the areas of military, defense and economy.

Djukanovic had expressed earlier hopes that NATO would invite Montenegro to join its Partnership for Peace program at the bloc's summit meeting in the Latvian capital of Riga in November.

Washington has reportedly agreed to help Montenegro meet the minimum criteria for the program's membership.

Rumsfeld was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Montenegro, since it gained independence earlier this year.

After his visit to Montenegro, Rumsfeld traveled to Albania to attend a meeting of defense ministers from Southeast European countries. From there he will travel to Slovenia to meet with NATO defense ministers in an informal session.

Source: Xinhua

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