Over the past three and a half years, I have had the great privilege and honor of representing my President and my country in the Republic of Albania. I arrived, as you may recall, on January 22, Muhamed you were there, in 2020, a new ambassador, eager to strengthen the special bond between the United States and Albania, determined to support Albania’s progress toward full integration into the Euro Atlantic community of democracies, and, as always, full of hope. As I complete my mission, I so am grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know this country, to visit all 61 municipalities and to meet Albanians from all walks of life, and – like every American Ambassador who has come before me – to try to contribute my share to our shared goals in democracy, defense, and business.
Albania has undertaken difficult reforms, especially in the justice sector, that have enabled your country to formally open negotiations for membership in the European Union. I have often said that justice reform is not easy, quick, or perfect, but it is showing results, and your persistence is critical to that. Don’t stop, keep moving forward, step by step, until your reach your goal. The United States will be with you every step of the way. We will not waver in supporting the aspirations of the Albanian people to take their rightful seat at the European table.
As you strengthen democracy in Albania, our defense cooperation is also reaching new heights. In 2021, Albania hosted Defender Europe 2021, the largest ever U.S.-led multinational military exercise in Europe, involving 28,000 troops from 26 NATO Allies and Partner nations. That has never happened in Albania before. Albania built on the success of that event by hosting Defender Europe 2023.
And for the first time in history, the U.S. military is maintaining a continuous presence in Albania. In 2022, U.S. Special Forces Europe established its Balkans Task Force regional headquarters in Albania and the U.S. Army Europe deployed a Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) here in this country. It was impressive to see in 2022, Albania’s Light Infantry Battlegroup receive NATO’s Combat Readiness Evaluation certification. U.S.-Albanian defense activities have tripled over the past two years, from 56 activities in 2021 to 144 activities in 2023.
Iran’s reckless and destructive cyberattacks beginning in 2022 also showed new threats that we must confront together. The United States has already committed $50 million to support Albania’s efforts to strengthen its cyber defenses – and this is the largest cyber assistance package we have provided to any country besides Ukraine.
Business ties between the United States and Albania also continue to grow and reach all-time highs. There is still room for improvement, but progress is happening. You may recall that in October 2020, we signed the Memorandum on Economic Cooperation Understanding, which ushered in a series of significant U.S. commercial investments in Albania. These investments will enable Albania to increase supplies, diversify sources, and become a hub for energy distribution in the Western Balkans region. In June 2021, we signed the Memorandum of Understanding to protect our 4G and 5G telecommunications infrastructure.
I’ll just share a few statistics with you that illustrate the growth of the U.S.-Albanian business relations. U.S. foreign direct investment reached a new high of $235 million in 2022, which is more than double what it was before the pandemic. Our bilateral trade has steadily increased, and in 2022, Albanian exports to the United States were three times what they were one year ago and almost four times what they were two years ago. The share of total exports to the United States doubled in the last year.
I am confident that trade and investment between the United States and Albania will continue to increase as Albania streamlines and improves rules and procedures for business, resolves property claims and enforces rights, and roots out corruption from Albania’s courts. The issues of justice reform and the fight to root out corruption, is not a matter of personal morals, it is a matter of national strength and prosperity. The United States wants Albania to be a rich country.
Albania’s Global Role
I would also like to say a few words about Albania’s role in the world.
The United States was proud to follow your leadership when Albania was Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and we have been proud to be Albania’s closest partner on the UN Security Council in defending the values and rules that have threatened peace and security around the world. And I should clarify, it’s not the values and rules that threaten peace and security, but the attempt to break those rules, and re-write these rules that threatens peace and security. We have valued Albania’s participation in supporting Ukraine and confronting Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion.
And people around the world, including in the United States, were inspired to see Albanians save lives and help vulnerable Afghans get out of harm’s way. Albania was the first to volunteer to shelter Afghans as they seek permanent resettlement in the United States. This is a remarkable demonstration of Albania’s tradition of hospitality and honor. And the people of Albania deserve tremendous respect for what you have done.
The U.S.-Albania relationship has never been stronger. We launched the first U.S.-Albania Strategic Dialogue in October 2022 to enable us to further broaden and strengthen our cooperation. In addition to our progress on democracy, defense, and business, I have been proud to be here for some important steps forward.
Last year, we commemorated the 100-year anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Albania with a historic year of events and celebrations. We were delighted to announce in that centenary year that Albanian citizens were qualified for U.S. visas that are valid for 10 years, no longer just three years. In the first year, over 24,000 Albanians received 10-year visas. This is a major step forward for travel and business links between our two countries. As Albanians demonstrate that they are following the visa rules, I am confident that the day will come when no visas will be required at all.
As I reflect on the past three and a half years in Albania, I am proud of the progress we have made – together. We have made great strides in advancing our partnership. There is more work to be done, for sure, but I hope that the progress made over the past three decades will inspire all of us – Albanians and Americans alike – to keep moving forward. Never give up. We must never give up because the Albanian people deserve nothing less.
On a personal note, I would like to tell you that I have been changed in many ways by my experience in Albania. I will leave Albania with deep respect for your history, your traditions, your legendary Albanian persistence. I will leave with gratitude for your kindness and friendship. I will leave with stronger sympathy and solidarity for your impatience for a better future for your children. And I will leave here with even greater hope in this fellow Land of the Eagles.
Thank you. Shumë faleminderit.
Ambassador Kim: And now I’m open to your questions.
KLAN TV: The Department of State expressed yesterday the concerns about operations in Manez, MEK compound, and they expressed concern about not showing support for them. Do you think that Albania should disrupt ties with the MEK organization and also remove them from Albania?
Ambassador Kim: I think that’s a decision for the Albanian government to make. One thing is very clear. We support Albania’s right to enforce its laws in its own country. And there are certain terms that apply to the presence of any guests in your country. And guests should be respectful.
Top Channel: Distinguished Madam Ambassador, is it fair to say that after Ambassador Lino in 1997, you had the toughest or the most difficult term in Albania? You’ve made some strong statements and you’ll face the same person. Sali Berisha. Thank you.
Ambassador Kim: I think every ambassador faces their share of challenges and opportunities. But, you know, the thing about America is that we always face the future. And every American ambassador, past, present, and future will always try to point Albania towards the future.
RTSH: Madam Ambassador, Sonila Agostini, from Albanian Public Television. I have a couple of questions for you. What would you change, first of all? And secondly, were there any difficulties or not working well in Albania when you arrived and has it is still persisting?
Ambassador Kim: Every country has its share of challenges. When we talk about things that should improve or should be different in Albania, I want to make clear that we say it from a place of sympathy and respect. We’re not saying it because we have no problems and only you have problems. I should also make clear that ambassadors don’t pursue personal agendas while we are here. So, if you’re asking does the United States see areas for change and improvement? The answer is absolutely, yes. And that’s why we pursue so strenuously and support so strongly Albania’s efforts to reform its judicial sector, to clean out corruption from its courts, to simplify and rationalize the rules that govern property rights, for example, and other rules for business. Because we want you to be rich and we want you to be stronger. That’s also why we support reforms in other areas as well, whether it’s your defense sector or any other area.
Euronews/Euroactiv: Thank you, Alice Taylor, Euronews and Euractiv now. During your time in Albania, I think it’s fair to say you’ve been under intense public scrutiny, both professionally and personally. Some of it has been very positive. But I know you’ve also faced a lot of criticism, fake news, attacks in the media and on social media. How has this and has it shaped your overall experience of Albania? What impression has that experience left on you? And my second question, will you be coming back on holiday?
Ambassador Kim: My answer may disappoint those who are looking for drama. The truth is that it has been a pleasure to be in this country. As in any capital city, there is a chattering class. There are a few loud voices that pretend to speak for everybody. I’d like to know the truth. And that’s why I made the effort to visit all 61 municipalities in this beautiful country and to get to know people, to have conversations that were not planned, and to try to find out what are people thinking about, what do they hope for their children, what do they think about the future? What are they like? What do they not like? And to everyone who has ever stopped to have a conversation with me, I would like to say thank you because you really helped me to understand this country and in every one of those conversations, even when we disagreed and you told me something that you thought maybe I didn’t want to hear, I still appreciated the opportunity to have a full conversation, a true back and forth.
There were some people who passed by me who I thought looked unhappy with U.S. foreign policy and policy towards Albania, and I tried to stop them to find out what they thought. And I think on at least a couple of occasions, the person that I tried to contact was alarmed. You know, they thought they were in trouble. And I hope that those persons and that every citizen in Albania knows that they should never, never be afraid to speak the truth. Speak the truth, confront people that you believe have power. Confront people, confront power, speak truth.
Euronews Albania: As you also mentioned during your opening remarks, you had three priorities during your term here – defense, business, and democracy. And these three fields you have also faced successes. I would like to ask you, what were the fields or the areas that you most succeeded and succeeded the least?
Ambassador Kim: You know, as I said in my opening remarks, we’ve made historic progress in each of these three areas. What I want to emphasize is that democracy, defense, and business are interlinked. You can’t just move forward in one area without progress in the other two. And in each of these areas, we still have room for growth and that’s not a criticism and it’s not a way to hide criticism. It literally is just room for growth. And we try to be truthful in pointing out where we’ve made progress and where we need to do more. And you can see that reflected, not just in my remarks, but you see it reflected in the comments made by senior officials in Washington. You see it reflected in the annual reports that the State Department publishes.
This country has been through a lot. The Albanian people have been incredibly persistent and your persistence has produced results. And I think all of us should be factual and look at how far this country has come. I challenge anybody to tell me that this country is not better than it was in 1991. I challenge anybody, to give me the facts that Albania today is the same as 1991. I’m not talking about what the commentators on TV like to say or what politicians like to say. I talk to real people and I hope you do too. You are real people. I point out the progress not to say that, okay now we can rest everything is done, but to say, my God, this country is capable of even more.
There are areas where we think that Albania must make changes in order to become stronger and richer, in order to take your rightful place at the European table. And those areas have been very clear, they’re clear to you as well. There is a problem with corruption and courts and prosecutors need to be independent. They need to work with integrity. This is why the United States, together with the Europeans, push so hard on the need for justice reform. This is also why we push for progress on property rights. We push for progress in making rules easier for businesses to understand procedures more transparent so that American businessmen and businesswomen can come to this country, apply, know that they can get the necessary licenses, and have confidence that if they run into a problem, if they run into a contract dispute, they’re going to be able to go to court and get a decision that is based on facts, not based on bribes and threats.
The United States has believed in Albania, the American people have believed in the Albanian people from the very beginning – from 100 years ago. That will never change. And we ask you to make these changes whether it’s in justice or in any other area because we know you can do it. We know you can do it. Don’t give up. And as I keep saying over and over, the United States will be with you 100% of the way. We can’t be in front, it’s your country. You have to be in front, but we will be with you side-by-side.
News 24: Madam Ambassador, have you had an opportunity to contact your colleagues in Prishtina, in Belgrade regarding heightened tensions in northern Kosovo? And do you also support the establishment of the Association in order to de-escalate the situation? What is your take on that?
Ambassador Kim: The U.S. position is very clear on the ASM, the so-called ASM. The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia agreed to the establishment of the ASM, but not just the establishment of the ASM. They agreed on a path forward that ends with full recognition for Kosovo. I don’t think anybody needs a reminder of how much the U.S. believes in Kosovo. The affection that we have, the commitment that we have to an independent sovereign Kosovo. If you need proof, I would recommend that you just look back a few years. The issue is what are the steps and the sequences by which both parties move forward together? And this is a time when leaders have to put aside a little bit of ego and think about the national project. Think about who your friends are. Consider a little bit the advice of your friends, your genuine friends.
A2 CNN: Madam Ambassador, do you consider after three and a half years in Albania, your mission here is complete, and will you consider it in your next assignment in the Department of State?
Ambassador Kim: In my next position I will have responsibility for all of Europe. And that includes Albania. So, I’m very happy about that. Maybe not everybody is happy about that, but I am happy about that. The truth is from a very personal point of view, as I said before, I have been very touched and changed by my time here. Whether I come back to Albania or not, Albania will always be with me. So let me just say in closing, the reason I wanted to pull together this press conference, to do it live, to not preview questions, is to remind everyone of the critical, essential role of a free, independent media. Media outlets may be a business, but journalists have a responsibility. You have heard from me so many times during my three and a half years here in Albania. Your job – we all have jobs – your job is to ask tough questions on behalf of the people. And my job, the job of any senior official, is to try to answer as truthfully and as fully as I can. Now, we all have techniques. Sometimes I don’t answer the question that you ask. I answer a question that is slightly different, but I face you because you represent the people and I respect you and I honor the role that you have in this democracy.
Thank you very much!