REVIEW: Article

Albania’s Evolving Role in World Affairs

Minister Mustafaj, who previously served as Albania’s Ambassador to France, delivered these remarks on February 15, 2006, before the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC. Ambassador Theodore R. Britton, Jr., Director and Member of the Council of American Ambassadors, and Mr. Genci Mucaj, Adviser to the Minister, assisted in the preparation of this article. Ambassador Britton recently was named Honorary Consul General of Albania for the Atlanta, Georgia region.

This is the first visit to Washington, DC since my party assumed leadership of the Albanian government. The purpose of the mission was to attend meetings of the A-3 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Group with my colleagues, the Foreign Ministers of Croatia and Macedonia. The conferences, which took place at the State Department, were gratifying and productive.

I express my gratitude to our American friends, both for their hospitality, and for the attention they continue to show the Balkan region. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her staff, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, and others combined to make this a most fruitful visit. Albania is especially grateful to Ambassador John Danilovich, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and through him, to President Bush, for allocating $14 million to us. This grant will be used to fund those programs which fight corruption and organized crime in my country.

While here in the United States (US), we have worked closely with Croatia and Macedonia, who are fellow members of the Adriatic Charter. This regional arrangement has fully demonstrated its usefulness as a vehicle for increasing and harmonizing cooperation in the area. We are fortunate that we do not have national enemies anymore in our region—only friendly, democratically elected governments. However, like many countries, we do have the twin enemies of “corruption” and “organized crime,” and all of us are waging a joint fight to eliminate them.

We have embraced the Western vision of action and reform, making us ever more part and parcel of the fundamental values underlying the Euro-Atlantic partnership. As the 20th century ended, the Balkan region was the only corner of Europe where the concept of “neighborliness” was still to be attained. The dynamics of our relationship under the Partnership Charter (US, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia) have substantially improved the perception of neighborliness. We now exchange national experiences in many different domains including security, protection and security of classified information, and cross-border cooperation. This has produced positive reactions to the challenges of terrorism and organized crime, especially in the trafficking of illegal drugs and persons.

The recent exchange of Documents of the Annual National Program of NATO Membership is a meaningful example of such mutual transparency and trust. In keeping with the Charter and in compliance with the principles of the Alliance, we have overcome traditional hesitancies among us. For example, we now support the aspirations of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Union of Serbia and Montenegro to join the Partnership for Peace program, once the necessary standards have been met. These accomplishments would have been quite unimaginable just ten years ago. In this regard, the support and encouragement of the US have been invaluable to us.

Along with Skopje (Macedonia), and Zagreb (Croatia), Tirana (Albania’s capital), has followed with close attention the debate over preparations for the two upcoming NATO Summits. Under these circumstances, it is crucial to us that the NATO Alliance and its member countries define as soon as possible, a clear enlargement calendar. We are hopeful that such discussions will result in an invitation to our countries to attend the 2008 Summit. It would further accelerate the democratic reforms so necessary to make Albania worthy of membership in the Alliance. To that end, my government is increasing its contacts with the governments of the decision-making countries of the Atlantic Alliance.  Needless to say, our efforts will be insufficient without a firm commitment of support by the US government.

We praise NATO’s Membership Action Plan process, as the major mechanism for assessing our candidacies. Nevertheless, performance remains an individual concern for each aspiring country. The Albanian government is working very hard to improve the political climate at home by intensifying the economic, institutional and legal reforms necessary to transform the entire society.  We regard strengthening the rule of law as the only road to win the tough fight against corruption and thereby cut the links between politics and organized crime. The strong international solidarity that we have found among our American and European friends during these past months has been an irreplaceable encouragement to us in this battle. Its fate will determine Albania’s future.

A high priority for us has been the reform of our armed forces. One of our objectives in Albania is to establish a deployable battalion during 2006 and a deployable brigade by 2008. Special attention is being given to the intensification and development of “niche” capabilities, designed to adapt to NATO’s need for specialized forces. Albania is already a participant in the Joint Medical Team and the Southeast European Military Brigade (SEEBRIG), a clear example of cooperation and cross-border cooperation.

From an individual standpoint, Albania is an active participant in the “Free Iraq” operation, with a contingent of 120 commando troops. In the NATO-led International Stabilization Armed Forces (ISAF) operating in Afghanistan, Albania has 24 troops. Lastly, Albania provides a contribution of 70 persons to the European Union-led “Operation ALTHEA,” set up to ensure compliance with the Dayton Peace Agreement. In addition, Albania is drafting legislation to freeze the assets of persons suspected of having ties with terrorist organizations, and to expel such persons from the country.

The elimination of older MIG jets and their replacement with helicopters is part of the strategy of our armed forces. At the same time, we have destroyed over 144,000 small arms and light weapons, 1.6 million anti-personnel mines, approximately 43,000 tons of ammunition and 511 tanks and armored vehicles.

In the framework of the fight against older chemical weapons, under “Operation VETOXA” (Destruction of Toxic Chemicals in Albania), 20 tons of chemical products and chemical weapons have been destroyed. This was not an easy task. Our Swiss colleagues and the Albanian Army worked closely to achieve their destruction.  I must cite just part of the logistical problems involved. Combustion chambers and diesel motors, having been constructed, were shipped in 15 containers by train to Koper, Slovenia, transferred by ship to Durres, Albania, and by road to Tirana. What began as a project costing two million Swiss francs, eventually increased to nearly 5.3 million. We should all praise this example of international cooperation. I must also mention that an additional 16 tons of toxic chemical agents will be destroyed by April 2007 under the Nunn-Lugar project.

You have no doubt noted my repeated reference to the Albanian-American relationship. Albanians are considered to be the most pro-American of all European countries. This is easily explained. It dates back to the early 20th century when, in 1919, then US President Woodrow Wilson denounced the plans of Albania’s neighbors to partition the country. This was followed years later when anti-Communist emigrants found shelter in the US. Lastly, the Albanian people remain forever grateful to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush for their outstanding contributions to the demise of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe. The present Bush Administration has continued America’s friendship with Albania and its neighbors, particularly in seeking to resolve the status of Kosovo.

Thus, Albania considers relations with the US to be of strategic importance. The US is the irreplaceable ally of the new Albanian democracy. In the framework of a fruitful cooperation, the US has supported Albania in its path of reforms. We greatly appreciate American assistance in helping to fulfill Albania’s aspirations for NATO membership and Albanian integration into the European Union.

Nevertheless, one can hardly fail to notice the discrepancy between our very good political relations and the still low level of economic and trade relations. We are determined to narrow this difference. For this reason, we greatly appreciate the presence in Albania of large American companies, such as Lockheed Martin, and believe that in the field of bilateral relations, all conditions are being provided to attract more investment in banking, energy, agro-business and tourism. The attainment of this goal will occupy a primary place in our relations with the US. The Albanian government, for its part, is launching a series of measures designed to guarantee free competition in a friendly climate for investors. During this visit, I have made it a point to visit with Governor Jeb Bush and his economic development staff to discuss economic cooperation, since his state, Florida, is similar to Albania in many respects.

In terms of the priorities and programs of the Albanian government, the continuing fight against corruption, conflict of interest, organized crime, human trafficking and terrorism, the enhancement of border security and the rule of law are among the most important. In addition, we continue to promote the free market, a functioning democracy, respect for human rights and the rights of minorities as major parts of the government agenda.

In external matters, one of the top priorities of the Albanian government is the integration of the country into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. We are conscious that the attainment of NATO and EU standards is a major condition for reaching this goal.  In the daily activity of the government, this is translated as “moving ahead with our reforms and presenting our achievements in this respect to the member countries of these organizations.” This is so because as our partners mention, the problem often is that the perception of us is different from that which actually exists in Albania. It needs to be emphasized, and publicized for that matter, that in its first 100 days, the current Albanian government banned the employment of persons in its customs and tax offices who have family connections to higher-level state and government officials. It has amended the law on conflict of interest, and is committed to restructuring the State Police in order to create a professional police force independent from politics. Lastly, it has launched attacks against a number of crime groups and organizations, especially those engaged in drug abuse, visas and arms and other illegal trafficking activities. We feel that the fight against corruption and organized crime is crucial to our long-term success as a nation.

Thanks to progress made in Albania’s Reform Implementation, the EU Commission’s President and its Enlargement Commissioner were in Tirana recently to initial a Stabilization and Association Agreement. This Agreement is quite likely to be signed this spring and its implementation will lead to Albania’s membership in the larger European family. As I mentioned to President Bush’s National Security Adviser, though, “We care much more about implementation of the necessary reforms than the calendars of this integration (into NATO and the EU).”

Albania is determined to keep on its path of comprehensive reforms, which will hopefully lead to NATO membership. Although the forthcoming Riga Summit is considered as the Summit of Transformation, we believe that it will confirm the Alliance’s “Open Door” policy. We hope that, through its Final Declaration, NATO will send an encouraging message to my country, and invite us to attend the 2008 Summit, a prelude to membership.

In closing, I wish to offer a word on Albania’s behalf concerning the unresolved status of our northern neighbor, Kosovo. Much can be said, but we must continue to respond to the dynamics of new developments in Pristina. We welcome the statement of the Kosovo Contact Group, which calls for a realistic, lasting and multi-ethnic solution to its status. We praise the concrete US support and commitment to speeding up the process both to determine Kosovo’s final status and to reach a compromise among the parties concerned. Finally, we support a Kosovo independence which respects the will of its people. We believe that such independence will require support and monitoring by the international community. This can only lead to peace and stability in Kosovo and the entire region.

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Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Albania