U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday said Montenegro’s recent NATO membership showed the alliance had “opened the door and will always be open to those European countries that share our values”.
Pence, speaking at the Adriatic Charter Summit in Montenegro's capital Podgorica, said U.S. President Donald Trump had sent him personally to show Washington’s commitment to the Western Balkans.
Montenegro, which broke from Serbia in 2007, joined NATO in June despite Russian criticisms of the former Yugoslav republic’s move.
Moscow was also accused of masterminding an attempted coup in Montenegro in October 2016 to scupper its plans to join the alliance.
Following Montenegro's entry to NATO, Moscow hit out at what it called the country's "anti-Russian hysteria".
Pence, however, praised Montenegro for standing up to Russian pressure when it joined NATO:
"Let me assure you that the United States will continue to stand by you and jointly for your European future, whether it is an entry into NATO or the European Union, because each of these roads leads to a stronger Europe."
"Here in the Western Balkans, Russia has been trying to destabilize the region, undermining democracy and sharing you between each other and the rest of Europe," Pence added.
Pence -- the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the small Balkan state in 100 years -- also said the Adriatic Charter, signed in May 2003 between the United States, Croatia, Albania and Montenegro, “plays an important role in bringing the Western Balkans together with Europe”.
The Adriatic Charter was established by Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and the United States to help countries which wanted to join NATO.
Montenegro and Bosnia officially joined in 2008, while Serbia gained observer status.