In Albania visit, Blinken says bond between two countries strong as security int’l challenges grow 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 16, 2024 14:35

In Albania visit, Blinken says bond between two countries strong as security int’l challenges grow 

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  • Wider regional and security issues appeared to be the focus of the visit.

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TIRANA, Feb. 15, 2024 - In an eight-hour visit to Tirana, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has reaffirmed the strength of the United States’ relations with Albania, which he said is a key partner for stability in the Western Balkans and a firm ally at the international level -- on Ukraine and beyond.

The visit saw a meeting and a joint press conference with Prime Minister Edi Rama as well as meetings with President Bajram Begaj and representatives from key Albanian justice institutions.

Wider regional and security issues appeared to be the focus of the visit.

“We had the opportunity today to discuss a lot of issues and challenges that we’re facing together, and we focused first on what we’re doing to promote our shared security,” Blinken said. “As you know, Albania has been from day one a strong supporter of Ukraine – really the first to step up, to raise its hand. It was one of the first countries to send military aid to Ukraine in the wake of the Russian aggression – guns, ammunition, mine resistant vehicles – and it’s currently one of the top ten per capita in terms of its support for Ukraine and security assistance.”

Secretary Blinken also focused on the fact that next month, Albania will inaugurate a NATO airbase in Kucova. 

“Together, our collective strength is much more than the sum of our parts. It’s an enduring investment in shared security, shared prosperity, and in the principles that join us together. We’re grateful that Albania is doing its part, prepared to continue to do its part. We’re fully committed to upholding our obligations as well,” Blinken said. 

Discussions during the meeting also delved into Western Balkans developments, with particular attention to the situation between Kosovo and Serbia. Rama stressed the indispensable role of the United States in facilitating peace and stability in the region, expressing gratitude for ongoing American support.

Blinken, in response to journalists' queries, affirmed the U.S. commitment to fostering dialogue and reconciliation between Kosovo and Serbia, emphasizing the importance of European Union-mediated negotiations as the primary path forward.

Prime Minister Rama, in his remarks during a joint press conference, described the visit as a pivotal moment in Albania's international relations, highlighting the significance of Blinken's presence amid challenging times not only for Europe but also for regions of strategic importance worldwide.

The visit also saw the signing of two memoranda of understanding, focusing on academic exchange through the Fulbright Program and combating foreign state-sponsored disinformation.

Domestically for Albania, Blinken's engagement with justice institution leaders underscored Washington's support for Albania's ongoing justice reform efforts. 

“The prime minister and I also discussed how to keep making Albania’s democratic institutions more accountable to Albania’s citizens. Justice reform has not been easy, perfect, or quick, but it is showing real results, and you heard the prime minister describe them,” Blinken said. 

He said he had taken time to meet with key judges and prosecutors who are helping to lead the reform effort. 

“Corrupt officials are being held accountable. Members of organized crime are going to prison and losing their assets. So this is a very powerful process, but it’s a process, and it continues to move forward. We’ll continue to strongly support Albania in these efforts, which are critical steps toward Albania joining the European Union and what the people in Albania deserve,” Blinken said at the press conference.

While acknowledging the challenges inherent in the reform process, Blinken expressed optimism about the strides made thus far and reiterated the United States' commitment to Albania's journey towards European Union membership.

Blinken did also meet with approximately 100 young beneficiaries of U.S. study programs, such as Fulbright and the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), highlighting the importance of educational exchanges in fostering mutual understanding and cooperation.

Additionally, discussions with Afghan applicants for special immigrant visas, who sought refuge in Albania following the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, underscored the country's humanitarian commitment and partnership with the United States in addressing global challenges, according to Blinken.

Later this month, Albania is set to host an international summit on the situation in Ukraine, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to attend.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 16, 2024 14:35