PODGORICA, Yugoslavia (AP) _ Montenegro's pro-Western government Saturday rebuffed U.S. pressure on the tiny republic to stay within the Yugoslav federation now that a new democratic leadership has emerged from sister republic Serbia.

The foreign minister of Montenegro, Branko Lukovac said that the current status of the republic will be decided by ``what Montenegro's citizens decide.''

``The decision is up to us,'' Lukovac said. ``The international community will accept what Montenegro's citizens decide'' on the issue of whether to seek full independence or a new relationship with Serbia.

On Friday, U.S. envoy James O'Brien met with Montenegro's leadership and pressed them to seek talks with the new federal president, Vojislav Kostunica. O'Brien also made clear that Washington opposes independence for Montenegro after years of turmoil in the Balkans.

Montenegro's leadership had strong U.S. backing during the final years of Slobodan Milosevic's rule.

Kostunica has pledged to repair the badly damaged relations between the two republics, possibly through an agreement that would officially acknowledge very broad autonomy for Montenegro.

Lukovac said Montenegro's leadership was aware that opting for ``independence would be regarded by the international community as creating new problems in the region'' and that Montenegro will be careful with this.

He added that a condition for proclaiming independence is that a vast majority of Montenegrins really want this and that it ``does not bring new problems in the region.''

O'Brien had said the U.S. administration believed ``Serbia, Montenegro and the federal government should enter good faith negotiations on maintaining Yugoslavia. The U.S. does not favor independence for Montenegro,'' and that talk of independence ``does not help integration and democracy.''