In Albania visit, State Secretary Kerry praises progress, presses for justice reform

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 15, 2016 12:06

By Ledion Veshi

kerryTIRANA, Feb.15 – In his first visit to Albania, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the country has made great strides on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration, while he called on Albania's political class to pass without delay a pending judicial reform package. The adoption of the reform, which also includes the establishment of a bureau of investigations modeled after the American FBI, is seen as a key step towards the fight against corruption and the strengthening of the rule of law in the country.

"The evidence is absolutely clear, and Albania should be very pleased with the fact that your country is moving in the right direction," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during a joint press conference with Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama on Sunday.

Kerry made mention of the so-called decriminalization law, which he considered as an important step to prevent criminals from entering politics. He added that the justice reform in Albania has the full backing of the Obama administration.

"And they are committed, I am convinced, to the fight for more accountable governance, and that requires the support of every single Albanian. The United States is absolutely ready and willing, and I am here to affirm on behalf of President Obama that we are with you in this transformation and in this journey," Kerry said.

Prime Minister Edi Rama thanked the U.S. State Secretary for the American support of reforms in the country and in particular the justice reform, for which the Americans have offered technical expertise alongside European and Albanian experts. Rama said he is hopeful parliament will pass the justice reform next month.

"I am fully confident that we shall succeed, and the very fact that we are not on our own but have the United States by our side makes such optimism to be successful quite reasonable in this historical endeavor for Albania of the 21st century," Rama told reporters during the joint press conference.

Speaking after a separate meeting with Kerry, Albanian opposition leader Lulzim Basha said "the Democratic Party is committed to contribute to the strengthening of democracy and the implementation of the decriminalization law as well as the justice reform based on recommendations."

The fight against terrorism was another important issue which was discussed during Kerry's trip to Albania. Travelling from Munich where he attended a high level conference on security issues, U.S. State Secretary Kerry praised Albania for its commitment to fight terrorism and its contribution as a NATO member in the global anti-ISIS coalition.

"We know that defeating Daesh is not going to happen just because of what any one country does. It's going to require a broad coalition, and we have built that coalition. And Albania, I am proud to say and grateful to say, is a charter member of that coalition," Kerry declared.

While neither Kerry nor Prime Minister Edi Rama would publicly talk about the resettlement of members from the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin e Khalq (MEK), Voice of America reported that the U.S. State Secretary used the visit to also thank the government for offering shelter to this group.

Over the past two years, Albania has taken in about 1000 MEK members and it has committed to taking a further 2,000, VOA said citing an unnamed senior State Department official.

The U.S. has donated $20 million to support the reforms in the country, while another $5 million is foreseen this year.

Before leaving Albania, U.S. State Secretary Kerry also met with civil society groups in the country.

Kerry's visit to Albania corresponds with the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Albania were re-established on March 15, 1991, after over half a century hiatus under communism.

On June 22, 1991, James A. Baker became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Albania after the country's long period of isolation. John Kerry is  the fifth top U.S. diplomat to have visited Albania since then.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times February 15, 2016 12:06