LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — As Melania Trump prepares to move into the White House, the future first lady's native Slovenia is offering to serve as a mediator between her husband and Russian President Vladimir Putin once Donald Trump takes office.
Slovenia's Prime Minister Miro Cerar said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday that the tiny Alpine state where Melania Trump was born and raised "could become a bridge between the two superpowers," which have been at odds over a number of issues.
Although a member of the European Union and abiding by the bloc's sanctions against the Kremlin for its role in undermining Ukraine, Slovenia has maintained warm relations with Slavic ally Russia. Putin has twice visited Slovenia on rare visits by the Russian leader to Western states.
During the U.S. presidential campaign, Trump and Putin expressed respect for each other.
"If the United States and Russia give some initiative in this way, Slovenia could of course become a bridge between the two superpowers," Cerar said. "We proved that we are quite capable of organizing such meetings."
In June 2001, former U.S. President George W. Bush and Putin had their first face-to-face meeting in Slovenia to explore the possibility of compromise on U.S. missile defense plans that Moscow had bitterly opposed.
Born Melanija Knavs, Melania Trump, 46, left Slovenia in her 20s to pursue an international modeling career. The last time she visited her native country was in July 2002, when she introduced Donald Trump to her parents at the lakeside Grand Hotel Toplice in the resort town of Bled two years before the couple's engagement.
Cerar said he received a phone call from her last week.
"She was very charming," Cerar said at his offices at the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana. "We talked in Slovene language and I congratulated her and her husband for the great (electoral) success."
"She passed the telephone to the president-elect Mr. Trump. He knows a lot about Slovenia. I told him he would be very much welcome to come to see the situation here and he agreed. I hope the visit here or there (the U.S.) will happen soon," the prime minister added.
Cerar said the conversation with the future U.S. president "touched very briefly" on possible Slovenian mediation efforts, "but there was no specific statement about that."
"We are ready to consider very seriously such opportunity, but the initiative must come from Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin," Cerar said.
Slovenia, which has become one of Europe's most popular destinations for outdoor activities after splitting from Yugoslavia in 1991, often gets confused — especially in the U.S. — with another central European state, Slovakia.
Cerar said he thinks the Trump family will help clear up the confusion. Not only is Melania Trump a native Slovenian, but Donald Trump's ex-wife Ivana — the mother of the future president's three oldest children — was from Czechoslovakia, of which Slovakia was part until the early 1990s.
"I know that Mr. Trump is very aware of the difference between Slovenia and Slovakia," Cerar said.
"People are not confusing Slovenia and Slovakia any more. Slovenia is well on the world map now," he said. "But of course, Mr. Trump and the next first lady can do a lot to show Slovenia to the rest of the world even better."