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Montenegro's Foreign Minister Reacts To Trump's Criticism Of His Country

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump regularly criticizes NATO and questions its value, especially the principle of collective defense, which says an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all. The latest example came Monday when Tucker Carlson asked President Trump this question on Fox News after Trump's summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

TUCKER CARLSON: So let's say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That's right.

CARLSON: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that...

TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question. You know, Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.

CARLSON: Yeah, I'm not against Montenegro...

TRUMP: Right.

CARLSON: ...Or Albania.

TRUMP: No. By the way, they're very strong people. They have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive. And congratulations, you're in World War III.

SHAPIRO: Montenegro is smaller than the state of Connecticut and the newest member of NATO. And Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic joins us now. Welcome to the program.

SRDJAN DARMANOVIC: Thank you. Thank you for calling me.

SHAPIRO: How did you react to this exchange?

DARMANOVIC: We confirm our strong friendship and alliance with the United States. And we just remind you that we are very peaceful nation, a newest NATO ally. Our recent - in our recent history, we proved to be peaceful in our region. We are making friendships, and we have not lost any of them.

SHAPIRO: You say your country has confirmed its strong friendship and alliance with the United States. Do President Trump's words sound to you like the words of a friend?

DARMANOVIC: I don't believe it is about Montenegro. It is just the story on collective defense and financial contribution, and Montenegro emerged in that interview as any other country could have emerged. So maybe the example was not the best or the fairest, but we find that it doesn't jeopardize our friendship and alliance with the United States. On the other side, we take Article 5 of NATO...

SHAPIRO: The collective defense.

DARMANOVIC: ...As unconditional and rock-solid. And the Article 5 was, by the way, the first time put in motion after the 9/11 attack, so we are quite confident that the United States as a leading NATO country stays firm on that principle.

SHAPIRO: And so when President Trump says they have very aggressive people, you don't think he's speaking about Montenegro specifically.

DARMANOVIC: Probably he referred to our history. Montenegro have been fighting for freedom for centuries. And Montenegrins are brave people in those fights for its freedom.

SHAPIRO: Well, then it sounds like he wasn't just choosing any country at random, that he actually does have something specific in mind.

DARMANOVIC: When he mentioned us, he just said something that describe us. But if he mentions some other country, maybe it would be other description. So I believe he is referring to our struggle for freedom, to our our anti-fascism. But for - in modern history, the things are actually different.

SHAPIRO: I'm surprised at how unconcerned you are about President Trump's cold relationship with NATO given how important the U.S. is to this alliance.

DARMANOVIC: I don't want to say that there are no concerns, but there are debates. There are debates even among friends. And I believe that debates cannot shake the most powerful alliance in the world. There will be maybe more debates about finance. There will be research for better model. But I'm - I really - it is very difficult to imagine that NATO can be shaken or put in danger by its leading country.

SHAPIRO: Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic of Montenegro speaking with us from the capital, Podgorica. Thanks very much.

DARMANOVIC: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.