US envoy travels to Montenegro to support its EU bid as war in Ukraine rages on

A senior U.S. official has visited Montenegro to offer support to the small Balkan nation seeking to join the European Union
U.S. Special Representative to the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar speaks during a joint press conference after talks with Montenegro's Prime Minister Milojko Spajic in Montenegro's capital Podgorica, Monday, March 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Risto Bozovic)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

U.S. Special Representative to the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar speaks during a joint press conference after talks with Montenegro's Prime Minister Milojko Spajic in Montenegro's capital Podgorica, Monday, March 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Risto Bozovic)

PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — A senior U.S. official visited Montenegro Monday to offer support to the small Balkan nation seeking to join the European Union.

During a press conference in the capital Podgorica, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar said Montenegro should be next in line to join the 27-nation bloc.

“There is absolutely no doubt in our mind... (the) strategic goal of this country is to become (a) full EU member,” said Escobar after talks with Prime Minister Milojko Spajic.

Six nations from the Western Balkan region — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia — are at different stages of the EU accession process following a period of wars and crises in the 1990s.

Escobar said EU enlargement has become a reality following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 which made U.S and EU officials more keen on trying to lure the six countries away from the Kremlin's influence.

“It is very important right now," he said, "we need to make sure Montenegro remains the next candidate and the next member of (the) European Union.”

In 2017, Montenegro defied Russia by joining NATO and has since sought EU membership. Spajic, who took office last year, has pledged to revive the EU bid after years of political deadlock.

The country is deeply divided between pro-Western forces and those supporting closer ties with neighboring Serbia and Russia. The stalemate had blocked progress in the EU-requested reform process needed to join the bloc.

“My argument to the European Union is if you have seen how Montenegro has behaved inside of NATO, which has been very positive, you can expect Montenegro to be the next European Union member,” said Escobar.

Last week, Escobar visited Kosovo in the latest U.S. effort to restart talks between Pristina and Belgrade to push them to normalize their ties, easing their way to join the EU. Brussels has warned both that this may hinder their chances of membership.

Western officials are seeking to resolve the remaining Balkan disputes, fearing Russia could try to stir trouble in the volatile region and shift at least some of the attention from Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.