Some conservatives give President Obama a great deal of grief for conducting what they derisively call the White House “apology” tour — the administration's expression of contrition for perceived American misdeeds spanning decades and a wide geography. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has criticized Obama's rhetoric as indicative of his supposed weakness.

But this week Trump was reported to have issued an international apology of his own. In an interview with a Serbian publication, his campaign apparently articulated regret for a U.S. and NATO bombing of Serbia during Bill Clinton's presidency.

“The bombing of the Serbs, who were our allies in both world wars, it was a big mistake,” Trump is quoted telling Nedeljnik, an independent Serbian news weekly. “The Serbs are very good people. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration caused them a lot of harm, but also throughout the Balkans, where they made a mess.”

According to Newsweek, which contacted the Serbian weekly and first flagged the story in English, the interview “was conducted via email correspondence with a Trump campaign senior adviser, Suzanne Ryder Jaworowski, who is also campaign manager for the state of Indiana.”

On Thursday afternoon, Trump's campaign issued a statement deeming the supposed apology “hoax reporting,” while also saying unflattering things about the American magazine that first noticed it.

“Mr. Trump never gave an interview to the Serbian weekly magazine Nedeljnikas as falsely reported by the discredited Newsweek, nor was such an interview conducted through our Indiana state director,” senior communications adviser Jason Miller said in the statement. “This was a hoax and we look forward to receiving a formal retraction and apology from all involved.”

Jaworowski also chimed in, claiming that the story was “completely false” and that she had “never served as a conduit to interview Mr. Trump for anyone.”

But even if there is no proverbial fire here, there is still a lot of smoke. Trump has been conspicuous in his disregard for NATO and has cast doubts about the future of the military alliance should he become president. He has also expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who still curries favor from Serbian nationalists.

Under President Clinton, the United States and its NATO allies intervened in 1999 with a bombing campaign against Serbia aimed at stopping the regime of then-President Slobodan Milosevic from carrying out massacres of ethnic Albanians living in parts of the country. The NATO intervention killed hundreds of civilians and destroyed a great deal of Serbian infrastructure, but it curbed the ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbian forces and eventually led to the creation of what is now the independent state of Kosovo.

At the time, the action was widely protested by Russia, a historical ally of Serbia, and marked the first time that NATO had deployed military force without approval from the U.N. Security Council — which the alliance had to bypass to circumvent a Russian veto. In the years since, a number of former Yugoslav republics — Croatia and Slovenia — became NATO members. Montenegro is expected to join.

To this day, some nationalists in Serbia resent NATO and its 1999 bombing campaign and refuse to recognize Kosovo's independence. Perhaps not surprisingly, as WorldViews documented, members of the Serbian far right also have celebrated Trump. During an August visit to Belgrade by Vice President Biden, hundreds of ultranationalists protested, marching through the capital with banners while chanting “Vote for Trump!”

“Trump is the alternative to globalization. He will destroy old centers of power in the United States and he is a supporter of Russia,” Vojislav Seselj, head of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, told Reuters reporters at the scene. Seselj, who as WorldViews noted at the time was acquitted in March of war crimes by a U.N. tribunal, also urged Serbian Americans to vote for Trump.

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