President Trump, who rattled U.S. allies at a NATO meeting last week, voiced concern in a television interview broadcast Tuesday night that sending troops from the alliance to defend an “aggressive” Montenegro could result in World War III.
Carlson pressed Trump on the purpose of the alliance, which was created in 1949 to protect the United States, Canada and a host of Western European nations from Soviet incursion. The organization calls for member nations to come to the aid of any ally that is attacked.
“Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?” Carlson asked in the interview, which was recorded Monday following Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
“I understand what you’re saying, I’ve asked the same question,” Trump responded. “You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. … They are very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III. But that’s the way it was set up. Don’t forget, I just got here a little more than a year and a half ago.”
Maine Gov. Paul LePage returned this week from a multi-day visit to Montenegro, where he visited the capital, Podgorica, on Sunday night and met Monday with President Milo Djukanovic as well as the country’s prime minister, the minister of defense, the secretary of state and the speaker of Montenegro’s Parliament, according to the governor’s Twitter account.
LePage’s office did not release any additional details of the trip, the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro indicated that the governor’s trip to the European country would also focus on trade in addition to a joint program with the Maine National Guard.
“During his stay in Montenegro, Governor LePage will also speak with business leaders and explore opportunities to expand economic ties between Montenegro and the State of Maine,” reads a media advisory from the embassy. “Governor LePage will later visit Tivat and tour the Bay of Kotor.”
Maine and Montenegro first signed an agreement in 2006 – just months after the country’s independence – as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Guard State Partnership Program. Under the partnership, the Maine National Guard has assisted the Montenegrin military with training and operations as the newly independent country came into its own. Additionally, representatives from Maine have assisted with emergency response, marine patrol operations and other initiatives in Montenegro.
Trump’s comments came after a NATO meeting in Brussels last week in which he upbraided allies for not living up to an agreement on how much they should pay for defense. The president also criticized Germany for a natural gas pipeline deal with Russia, saying it made the country “captive” to Russia.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that the meeting was “an acknowledged triumph,” taking credit for members pledging to meet their commitments.
In 2016, the chief prosecutor in Montenegro accused Russian nationalists of backing an alleged coup attempt that included plans to assassinate the nation’s pro-West prime minister over his government’s attempt to join NATO.
Since joining the alliance, Montenegro has sent troops to a NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
Trump and Montenegro have a bit of a history: The U.S. president appeared to shove Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic aside at a NATO summit last year, the first at which Montenegro was represented.
After Trump’s return from Europe this week, Maine Sen. Angus King was appointed to the Senate North Atlantic Treaty Organization Observer Group. The bipartisan group will report to the Senate about the defense spending commitments of NATO members, the process of upgrading military capabilities and other alliance activities.
“After the President spent his week in Europe dividing our allies and embracing Putin, it is clear that the Senate must play a larger part in strengthening our relationships with NATO allies – and that is exactly what the Senate NATO Observer Group can do,” said King, an independent, in a prepared statement.
The reestablishment of the Senate NATO Observer Group will help ensure that we are prepared to stand with our friends in the face of evolving threats to national security – particularly Russian efforts to sow discord in the alliance, threaten its neighbors, and interfere in democratic elections – and reaffirms America’s commitment to this critical alliance,” King said.
The group, led by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), was re-established earlier this year with the support of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). It was first established in 1997 to serve as a connection between the administration, NATO and the Senate. The group was re-established in 2002 with a focus on possible new additions to NATO, but was disbanded in 2007 when NATO did not bring in new member states. This new iteration of the group has an expanded mission to monitor NATO commitments and capabilities, and ensure that the Senate is kept informed of NATO work.