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U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis


BELGRADE (Reuters) - Montenegro contributes to peace and security in Europe, the government of the new NATO member said on Thursday in response to a suggestion by U.S. President Donald Trump that the small republic was not worth defending against attack.

Asked in a Fox television interview why Americans should defend Montenegro from attack, Trump said: "I've asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people... They are very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you are in World War Three."

Republican Senator John McCain accused Trump of "playing right into (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's hands" with his comment that appeared to question the American commitment to defend all NATO allies.

"Montenegro is proud of its history and tradition and peaceful politics that led to the position of a stabilising state in the region and the only state in which the war didn't rage during disintegration of the former Yugoslavia," the Montenegrin government said in a statement.

"Today as a new NATO member and candidate for EU membership it contributes to peace and stability not only on the European continent but worldwide, along with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan."

Montenegro joined NATO last year in defiance of Russia after accusing Russian spies of orchestrating an attempted coup to derail the accession.

"We build friendships, and we have not lost a single one, and at the same time we are able to boldly and defensively protect and defend our own national interests," the government statement said.

"In today's world, it does not matter how big or small you are, but to what extent you cherish the values of freedom, solidarity and democracy."

(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac)

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