by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the joint press point with the Prime Minister of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic
Thank you very much Prime Minister
It is indeed a great pleasure to meet you again, so soon after your visit to NATO Headquarters, Prime Minister.
This shows that our relationship is both strong and deep.
It gives me particular pleasure to visit Montenegro as you celebrate Independence Day. You have achieved a lot since independence.
Montenegro is an important partner for the Alliance and you are a strong aspirant for membership.
You show your commitment to the Alliance in practical terms. You have played a positive role in the Western Balkans and you contribute to international security. I welcome your support to Western policy on Ukraine, in respect to international law and our common values. I am grateful for your contribution to our mission in Afghanistan. And for your pledge to help the Afghan security forces both financially and through the training mission we are planning after 2014.
The door to NATO membership remains fully open to all European democracies who are willing and able to assume the responsibilities of membership, and whose inclusion can contribute to common security and stability.
Integration into NATO is a free choice. But it requires significant efforts and reforms.
NATO is committed to the future of the Western Balkans as a natural part of the Euro-Atlantic family. So I look forward to seeing Montenegro join the Euro-Atlantic family as soon as you are ready.
We have seen a lot of efforts, and a lot of achievements in Montenegro. But substantial reforms are still needed, including in areas also important for your aspirations to join the European Union.
So I encourage you to continue your efforts, especially in reinforcing the rule of law, meeting NATO standards in your security sector reforms, and fighting corruption and organised crime.
So that Montenegro continues to move forward, as you want and deserve.
Finally, let me comment briefly on the situation in eastern Ukraine.
Late yesterday, we have seen limited Russian troop activity in the vicinity of the border with Ukraine that MAY suggest that some of these forces are preparing to withdraw. It is too early to say what this means, but I hope this is the start of a full and genuine withdrawal.
At present, most of the previously deployed Russian force remains near the Ukrainian border. And we see continued Russian exercises in the same area.
If we see any meaningful, comprehensive and verifiable withdrawal, I would be the first to welcome it. This would be a first step from Russia into the right direction of living up to its international commitments, especially as Ukraine is preparing to hold important presidential elections on Sunday.
I hope we will see a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine.