|The lobby firm will help promote Montenegro's case to US decision-makers | Photo: whitehouse.gov.|
Montenegro has agreed a new contract with the Washington-based firm Orion Strategies to advocate for the country's accession bid, according to a US Department of Justice filing.
The firm will provide strategic communications, PR and advocacy around issues and news relating to Montenegro in the US and Europe and around the country's bid for membership of the Western military alliance.
Orion Strategies will receive $150,000 for services delivered over a 12-month period ending on February 1, 2017.
NATO invited Montenegro to join the alliance in December, in its first planned expansion since 2009.
Montenegro completed accession talks with NATO in February and a Protocol of Accession will be signed on May 19, which then has to be ratified by all 28 members of the alliance.
The process is expected to take a year and a half, and will be complete only when the US Congress ratifies the protocol.
Security analyst Aleksandar Dedovic said he was not surprised that the government has extended the contract with the US lobbying firm, which was first signed five years ago, because it wants to speed up the ratification process.
Dedovic told BIRN that Montenegro wants to prevent any any possible problems that may arise during the approval of the accession protocol by the US legislators.
"The US Congress is the last step to membership and the government does not want to take a risk," he said.
Documents filed by Orion Strategies with the Foreign Agents Registration Unit of the US Justice Department, which BIRN has seen, say that the firm will provide Montenegro with advice, guidelines and support for strategic communications and public relations, as well as promoting the country’s case to US decision-makers.
"Orion Strategies will also advise Montenegro's government in approaching key policy figures in the US executive, with the focus on the State Department and White House," the contract with the firm says.
Orion Strategies was founded and led by Randy Scheunemann, who served as a senior foreign policy adviser to Republican politician John McCain in his 2008 US presidential bid.
Macedonia, Latvia, Romania and Taiwan are among the other countries for which Orion has provided lobbying services in recent years.
Montenegrins remain sharply divided about joining NATO and a recent poll suggested only about 40 per cent support membership.
Pro-Russian opposition parties have demanded that the government organise a referendum on the issue on the same day as general elections planned for the autumn.
But the government maintains that a referendum is not a constitutional obligation, and that is enough to take a decision by a majority vote in parliament.