Sokol Balla: Welcome to Real Story! I welcome to the show U.S. Ambassador to Tirana, Mrs. Yuri Kim, who is a frequent guest of my show. Ma’am, thank you for coming tonight in my show and Happy New Year.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Thank you very much and happy new year to you as well.
Sokol Balla: 2022 has been a very important year for Albania and the United States, especially it was like the centenary of our relationship. And I think for an ambassador, it’s even like a lucky, lucky thing to have.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Very lucky. Yes, I was lucky to come to Albania and very lucky to be able to celebrate 100 years of U.S. – Albania relations – the first opening of that relationship in 1922, and then of course the previous year we celebrated 30 years since the re-establishment of relations. So, I feel very good about that. And you’re exactly right, 2022 was a huge year in U.S. – Albania relations across democracy, defense and business. Tremendous achievements and I would actually say historic achievements. And I’m glad that we’ll have a chance to talk about some of that today.
Sokol Balla: And let’s start from the fact that also 2022 was an important year because of the, you know, dramatic events on the conflict in Ukraine and the fact that for the first time maybe since Vladimir Putin came to power, there was a real confrontation between him Russia and the West. And Albania at the same time becoming member of Security Council also, you know, in conjunction with us, played an important role on all this, right?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Yes. You know, one of the things that I notice in my time here — and in fact, next year, next week, on January 22nd, it’ll be exactly three years since I arrived in Albania — one of the things that I notice is, number one: this is a great country with incredibly warm, hardworking, smart people. The second thing I notice is that we spend a lot of time in this country talking about the things that are wrong. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about the things that are right. And so, what I want to say today is that when you look at Albania, where it’s come from, where it is today and where it can go in the future, there’s a lot of reason for optimism. Just in the last few years: we now have Albania as an elected member of the UN Security Council, sitting alongside the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, as a country that speaks about global issues, including Ukraine and in fact, the United States is very proud to be a co-penholder with Albania on all issues related to Ukraine.
We are driving the global agenda on this issue and we cannot think of anybody who would be a better partner. When Albania speaks about the cruelty of dictatorship, when Albania speaks about the importance of defending sovereignty, territorial integrity, when Albania speaks about the right, the right of the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian nation to exist, the world listens, especially because Albania is speaking from its own historical perspective, so it’s extremely valuable. As you know, we’ve also increased the relationship between the United States and Albania on the defense front as well. And so, we’re very proud to be partners, real partners with Albania. The relationship between our governments is stronger than ever. The relationship between the people of Albania and the people of America is stronger than ever.
And one of the big things that we did in 2022 was to increase the validity of visas from three years to ten years, which means that Albanians are following the rules when it comes to visas more and more. And our goal as the United States is to get to a point where enough people are following the rules, that there’s enough prosperity and enough exchange between the United States and Albania that we can have a visa-free regime. So that’s the big goal, and I think we’ll get there.
Sokol Balla: We’ll get there. And, you know, this is one of the things that I’ve been talking with people when first the U.S. apply the three-year visa. Yeah. One of your predecessors gave that breaking news on my show. In 2014, if I’m not wrong. And that was big, 2013, but it was big news. And you also broke very nicely the story about the, you know, the fact that the U.S. is issuing only ten-years visas to whoever applies to it. And of course, I was telling to my friends, you know, this is going towards this. The visa-exempt, as you call it, a regime where some many countries of the Western Hemisphere take part…democratic countries and developed countries. And I said this is a good thing for Albania, for Albanians, of course, but for Albania as well, because it classifies our country in a much better position than it used to be.
Ambassador Kim: That’s right.
Sokol Balla: That’s a long time ago, right?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: That’s right. There’s a lot more exchange, whether it’s tourists or businesspeople or family and friends, between the United States and Albania. And we see that going up. You know, I brought some statistics. I don’t know if you’ve got the charts.
Sokol Balla: Yeah, we got them.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: But, you know, I wanted to talk a little bit about trade.
Sokol Balla: But allow me only a small question. When you said that we will go there to the visa exemption. When do you think that will happen?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: It depends on what happens in Albania. But I’ll tell you this. When we issue, when we make the decision to issue ten-year visas, what that says is we are very optimistic about the next ten years. I think, you know, I can’t make a prediction as to exactly when we will be able to travel without visas altogether, but I can say that we are pointed in the right direction. One of those indicators is trade, business between the United States and Albania.
Sokol Balla: Yeah, we have the graphics.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Look at those figures.
Sokol Balla: Amazing. I saw them earlier.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: So, as of September 2022, stock U.S. FDI is $213 million and that’s almost twice as much as it was in 2019, which is right before the pandemic. U.S. investment in health care, financial services, energy and information technology and tourism is increasing; we’ve got U.S. companies here like never before, especially in the IT sector, and they’re hiring more and more people, training more and more people.
We even have a unicorn here in IntelyCare. Trade doubled, doubled since 2019 from 139 million to $235 million. Albanian exports to the United States almost tripled since 2019, from 53 million to $137 million. It’s herbs and spices, and in fact, I think about 70% of the sage that is imported into the United States comes from Albania. But we’re also now importing from Albania aluminum products, including car parts. So, that is big news.
Sokol Balla: Albania is producing car parts for the American car industry?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: That’s right.
Sokol Balla: It sounds a bit I mean, unbelievable. The American car industry is what actually drives the American industry itself, the economy.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: So, I think in Albania, one of the things is that people find it very easy to believe bad news, but very hard to believe the good news. So I came armed with some facts to show you that I’m not making it up. These are the facts. So, Albania’s economy, trade with the United States, business with the United States is skyrocketing.
And you can see it in those data points. You see a spike there from 2014 to ‘16. That’s due to a huge export of crude oil from Albania to the United States at that time. But overall, you can see the pattern here where it’s pointed, you know, straight up to the sky. And we want to keep that. One of the keys is going to be justice reform, because the decisions that businesses make will be based on a number of factors.
Key among those is going to be whether the rules are rational and clear; whether processes are transparent and fairly quick; and whether there are clean courts because businesses are not always happy. Sometimes there are contract disputes, and American businesspeople want that confidence that if there’s a contract dispute, they can take the case to court. They’ll get a hearing on a timely basis and they will get a judgment that is rendered based on law, not based on fear or favor.
Sokol Balla: What is called like juridical security. So, actually, you go to the court and you trust the decision on whether that’s right. No matter, no matter what the decision is.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: That’s right. We’ve seen some incidents now that indicates that there are still problems when it comes to contract disputes here in Albania. We feel it from American businesses, and I definitely know it, that Albanians, regular people feel it. They experience it as well. So that’s why we focus so much on judicial reform.
Sokol Balla: And that’s why we journalists even good willingly we focus on the problems because we want those problems to be solved. And then you mentioned, rightfully so, the justice reform, your, you know, outside the economy, economical issues is your main investment in this country in the last six years, six to seven, eight years. And I know that there has been progress and I know that you got figures. Yeah. And I wouldn’t like to deny them, so I’ll let you the floor first and tell me, was SPAK a success?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: All right. Justice reform is not easy, quick or perfect, but we are definitely seeing results now and it’s building. And I know that there is an Albanian expression, gur mbi gur.
Sokol Balla: …bëhet mur…
Ambassador Yuri Kim: But it is happening, right? It’s happening. So, we’re moving forward. Justice reform has the strong, absolute support of the United States, as it does from the EU. And more than that, it has the support of the Albanian people.
So let me just share with you a few statistics. Since the creation of SPAK, over $70 million in assets have been confiscated that we know of so far, right. The figures for 2022 are being finalized. But if you look at the period before SPAK from 2011 to 2019, in that nine year period, they confiscated, the courts confiscated about $20 million.
In 2020 to 2021, $70 million was confiscated. In 2022 we believe that the final figure will be over 100 million. That’s real progress. Those are real results, real numbers. If you look at the next slide on the land that has been seized, nothing was seized in 2019 to 2020. In 2021, 22,300 square meters were seized. That is valued at approximately $2.2 million. In 2022 305,175 square meters was taken.
These are assets held by those who were convicted of corruption or for engaging in organized crime. You now have SPAK with a new chief. We believe that he has the skills to succeed and to take SPAK to the next level. But here’s what I also want to emphasize. Justice reform is not just about SPAK. There is a vast system that involves judges, prosecutors and others, investigators, the police.
They all have to do their job. I talked to people around the country. You know, we were just doing a study of where I’ve been in this country. And of the 61 regions in this country, I’ve been to about 70% of the country. And I’d like to go to 100% of them. But in any case.
Sokol Balla: I’ll ask you if we still have time. But later on.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Okay, when I go around the country, I try to make the opportunity to talk to regular people. I talk to officials, of course, that’s part of my job. But I think it’s really important to talk to regular people and find out what they’re thinking about, how they feel. And they all tell me about how impatient they are for justice reform to be fully implemented.
The United States supports that. We are in full sympathy with the Albanian people. It’s not only because justice reform is a requirement for Albania to join the European Union. It’s not only because it’s appropriate for Albania as a member of NATO and an aspirant for the EU, a member of the UN Security Council, to have a legal system that befits that status.
It is also because this is the strong demand of the Albanian people. And I will tell you that the United States will always we will always stand with the Albanian people.
Sokol Balla: Okay, So, then you understand my question as part of Albanian people that also our support in general for the reform, it will always be there after more than four years of the start of the functioning of the new institutions like the Court and SPAK and the rest. We would really like to see results.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: And you are seeing them. I just showed you the results.
Sokol Balla: Yes, I know. And me as a journalist, this is one of the things that I try to explain, that I say it’s always about following the money. It’s always about, you know, I don’t like to speak with people in prison. I don’t like them, even people that I think they deserve it. It’s not that I like to see them behind bars, but this is very important. Following the money, you know, taking the money away from them, the money that can be used for other criminal activities or money that can be used to launder the image of themselves, like, you know, building media and portals and websites and televisions and radios in order to clean up their dirty image. But at the end of the day, Madam ambassador, as you know, and have spoken to ordinary people of Albania, they really want to see those responsible behind bars. And to be frank, that hasn’t happened yet.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I disagree with you.
Sokol Balla: Okay? I know you disagree with me, but you’re agreeing with me in principle that me I’m not just a journalist, but I’m also an Albanian that does support the reform that we don’t want. We want to see the big fish behind bars, not the small fish, I always recall that. But this is our sarcasm of Rovena Voda, the former minister of Internal affairs. But for God’s sakes, it’s okay to do even that. But is it the right thing to start things? Should we start from the big fish?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: So, I think it’s important to keep in mind and to be realistic and to understand that something as radical as justice reform will not be easy, quick or perfect. That’s like saying that a runner should begin with the marathon. It’s not where you begin. You begin there, you’re going to fail. You need to build up strength. And what we are seeing in the statistics, in the real results that you’re seeing from SPAK and from other places, is that those who are engaging in corruption and organized crime, those who are stealing from the government, from the people, from the United States, are beginning to face justice. We are seeing former ministers, powerful people, sitting members of parliament, police officers, politicians, organized crime leaders, some business people, being put to trial and going to jail. And when you say that nothing has happened…
Sokol Balla: I didn’t say.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: It’s not true.
Sokol Balla: Not Enough.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Not enough has happened. And I agree with you. I agree with you 100% on that. That’s why the United States will continue to strongly support justice reform. We are not going to give up because we know the Albanian people will not give up.
Sokol Balla: Madam Ambassador, you know me, even personally in these two, three, three years. And you know that I’m not only here this I never you know, I always I’m I try to be as objective as I can. But in this country when it comes to justice reform and to come to the opinions, it seems that only the opinion of the right matters, the opinion of the left doesn’t, not of politicians, I mean of people.
So here you have people from the right to say, you know, good enough, you have ministers, you know, you have deputies, you have high officials, former vice ministers who are in jail for corruption issues. But then when you see on the right and when you see, you know, what kind of accusations these people from the right have been in the last decade, nothing happens to them.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I disagree with you. I think that if you look at the overall range of people who have been forced to face justice, that that’s not true. But the other reality is this, that these cases take time to build because some of these cases have been ignored over the years and it takes time to rebuild cases to collect the facts.
And what we emphasize with all of these justice institutions is that they have to follow the facts; they have to follow the law; and they have to deliver justice. We don’t tell any of these institutions which cases they should pursue. That’s not our job. It’s not our business. Our job and our business is to say that there must be rule of law in this country; that it’s time for impunity to come to an end. And we believe that justice reform is beginning to deliver results. I think, again, look at the facts. Don’t get distracted by the propaganda on all sides. There are some people who want you to believe that justice reform will never happen, so, they ignore the facts, and they say nothing has happened, and it’s a way to say nothing can happen.
But the facts tell a different story. They tell the story of impunity coming to an end. They tell the story of high officials worrying. I’ve heard a lot of stories about people up at night wondering if they’re next for designation or for prosecution. And if you’re worried, then you probably have a good reason for being worried. And, I would say again to all of those prosecutors, judges and investigators: do your job!
Sokol Balla: I agree with you. And this is what we are asking, because let’s say one of the things that people here like is also the new strategy the United States have taken against corruption in the last two years. You know, we had, the executive orders by President Biden that actually, you know, touch the corruption where it hurts most, in their money.
And we had also cases of Albanians being blacklisted on those matters as well. But when you see how the United States has treated the issue of corruption and the criminal activities and, you know, undermining of democracy, you see that your actions have been swift and blind in the sense that you haven’t seen that this someone from the right or from or someone from the left.
So you had high officials from the left and you had high officials from the right who are designated under those accusations. And, you know, we want to see that happening with our justice system as well. Them being blind. The just, you know catching the fish, if it’s in the wrong sea.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: When Deputy Assistant Secretary Gabe Escobar was here in January (2022), he had an interview with you, and he made very clear at that time that our expectation is that judges and prosecutors and investigators will follow the facts.
Sokol Balla: So, we’ll have to wait for the facts.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Let’s see what happens.
Sokol Balla: Let’s see what happens. We’ll be eagerly waiting for that because the other thing that, you know, war is a part of, a good part of the public opinion in this country is that despite the fact that the United States has been very clear on designating whoever has done wrong things in this country, putting them where they belong, you see that these factors not only in Albania, but you see even in Bosnia, it looks like they are getting political strength. It looks like the negative energy towards the United States is gathering pace. I always say I don’t believe that, it looks like, but, you know, in politics, perception is important. So, I see you know, I don’t want to mention names because I know you don’t like it either, but it seems that, you know, someone is, it looks that it is getting strong, despite being officially put in the dark side of the history, and I don’t want to mention any names.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think you know, in Albania, one of the things that is remarkable and so very valuable here is that almost everybody in this entire country understands the importance of the relationship between the United States and Albania. And I have yet to meet a normal person here who is in any way ignorant of that, or would even be anywhere near anti-American. Sometimes people like to blame others for their own problems. They like to create distractions. I think Albanians have common sense. I think they have a sense of history and I think that they are not given enough credit for understanding what is at stake. When you look beyond Albania as well, when you look at what is happening with Russia and Ukraine, there are big struggles that are coming on to the world stage.
It’s not just about Albania. There are challenges to democracy and to democratic institutions and we have to be courageous and realistic in confronting them. I say that not because the United States has never experienced them. I say that precisely because we have. In our own recent history, we have faced challenges to democracy and our democratic institutions.
Sokol Balla: …you still…
Ambassador Kim: We still face them, but we’re going to confront them. And our hope and expectation is that a friend and ally like Albania, a friend and ally like the Albanian people, will do the same thing. This is not a time to be glib. It’s not a time to turn these relationships and the fight for democracy, real democracy, into a political sideshow. This is real. This is not about individuals. It is about history. It is about the future of not only Albania and the United States, but it’s about the future of the world. And we have to be serious about this. This is not an episode of Big Brother. You know, it’s not something where you get out your popcorn and you make comments and you watch who is doing what to who as though it were about individuals. This is real history in the making, and Albanians have a role in that. And our hope and expectation is that the Albanian people will look at the facts, they will look at their history, they will look at their painful past. They will look at the opportunities that are before them now and that they will choose a better future for themselves and for their children. That is what we hope and expect.
Sokol Balla: Yeah, and I’m afraid not only that, you’ll even have to act more because I saw you actually, you know, on the day that the High Prosecutorial Council was electing the new head of SPAK, things moved only when you rushed in.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I disagree with you on that.
Sokol Balla: First that’s the question. And then, if you can explain something, what happened that day?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: So, I explained it on the day that I went there, because I know that people are spinning all kinds of theories and there was a lot of misunderstanding out there. Again, there was an effort to portray this as one person versus another. That’s just, it’s insane. The reason that we were there is the reason that we have been to other meetings like this and other events like this. It is to reinforce and to demonstrate strong U.S. support for the implementation of justice reform. It is to make sure that everybody understands that we expect players here, the actors here to follow the rule of law, that when they make decisions, they must make decisions based on the law and the rules and criteria, not based on fear or favor. It’s very important that whoever was elected as the new SPAK chief or whoever gets made a judge or whoever gets hired as an inspector, all of these individuals in the justice system, it’s very important for them to understand, to believe, and in fact, to be put in those positions based on their qualifications, not because it is the result of threats or favors. That’s what we are trying to do. So, I know that there are lots of theories as to, you know, the United States favoring a particular candidate or going against this person or that person. All of those are false. That is true fake news. Our sole goal in everything that we have done with respect to justice reform is to ensure its implementation in accordance with the law and to reinforce the courage of those who are in positions of responsibility to do their job.
Sokol Balla: Was there any fear or concern that that process that day was being influenced by, you know, politically or by threats or by favors?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think for any of these processes…
Sokol Balla: Because Mr. Dumani, let me remind you, was a favorite even the first time not only of the public favored Mr. Dumani in general, and then all of a sudden, he was like scrapped from the process. A photo was published of him with a couple of politicians just having a coffee somewhere in public to be frank. And then he was kept from the process and then all of a sudden, he became still a candidate and there was still this fear. And let me tell you one thing from my sources. From the government. Mr. Dumani was not a favorite guy.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Look, everybody’s entitled to their opinion.
Sokol Balla: That’s why I’m asking you, because I know from my sources Mr. Dumani was not the top favorite. Let’s put it this way.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Well, you have your sources.
Sokol Balla: That’s why I’m asking.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I can’t comment on that. All I can say is that for the United States, it was very important that the decision is made in accordance with the law, based on transparent criteria, in accordance with a transparent process, and that whoever is elected understands that that’s why he or she is in that position. That’s the whole story there. That’s the real story.
Sokol Balla: That’s the real story.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: That’s the real story, Sokol.
Sokol Balla: Okay. Let’s see if that actually will become a real story. And, uh, but, but I agree with you. I trust that Mr. Dumani will fulfill his role. Yeah, I trust that. Not just know, but I trust that he will fulfill his role.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: But, we were very lucky in this last election because there were three candidates, all of whom were highly qualified. But you have to make a choice and the High Prosecutorial Council did their interviews. They looked at the record, they looked at the qualifications. They made their decision. We want to strongly support Mr. Dumani since his election and we will continue…
Sokol Balla: As you did with his predecessor…
Ambassador Yuri Kim: As we did with his predecessor, and we will continue to support all of those prosecutors, judges and inspectors who are in those positions of implementing justice reform.
Sokol Balla: Madam Ambassador, I’m not pushing further. I wanted to make another question, if there was a concern of interference from the government, because, you know, the opposition claims that the government actually is putting its hands everywhere in the new justice system. But you said earlier that the relations between the both governments are on the highest level ever. How is your personal relationship with the Prime Minister?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: The relationship between the governments is very strong and part of that relationship is a relationship between the head of government and the American Ambassador. So again, I want to ask people to get away from viewing these as personal relationships. They’re not personal relationships. These are official relations. And what I can tell you is that when the Prime Minister and I discuss an issue that is of importance to the United States and to Albania, we get things done.
We couldn’t ask for a better partner, whether on the Security Council, at NATO, on critical issues. For example, Albania’s decision to be the first country to volunteer to take Afghans who are fleeing from the Taliban, to give them a safe haven for a few months on their way to the United States to build new lives. It’s a really honorable thing that this country has done. And what’s remarkable is that the Prime Minister made that decision in full and true representation of the will of the Albanian people. I have yet to run into an Albanian who doesn’t feel proud, but more than that, who doesn’t think it’s completely normal that Albania would do this. This country doesn’t get enough credit for being good, for being honorable, for being the friend that will help you in your time of need. And I hope that the Albanian people understand how much the world admires them and how much the United States is grateful for that assistance.
Sokol Balla: Ambassador, I’m asking about that because I agree with you that, you know, it’s official relations that are the most important ones. But if personal relations are good, it’s like a bonus. You know, it helps. It helps you. It helps him in his job. But awkwardly enough. There was a reaction some time ago from the foreign ministry, an information, an answer without a question, actually, talking about you and the time of your leaving the country. And by all commentators and analysts, all of them, despite being the left or the right, they all agree that it was at least a mistake. Then we had the Foreign Minister. She came out and she said that we did it to end up the gossips and, you know, the fake news that were going around. So I guess nobody asked you in public for this. I’m happy to be the first one. How did you see that thing? And you have an interpretation of that or an explanation because there also talk about you going to the ministry and talking with the minister about this?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Look, the Foreign Minister has been in that position for a while. We know her very well, including from her time as defense minister. And when the government of Albania issues an explanation, we take them at their word.
Sokol Balla: Which means?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: They gave the explanation. We take them at their word.
Sokol Balla: So, the explanation why they say.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: We take them at their word.
Sokol Balla: So, you trust them?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: We take them at their word.
Sokol Balla: So, you trust them?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: We take them at their word.
Sokol Balla: Okay. So, I’m not then asked again if you trust them, but can I ask you, when you’re really leaving because you said that you saw 70% of the country and you would like to see the rest of it? Of course you could see it even afterwards. I’m pretty sure you’ll come back to Albania as a visitor. But will you have time to see the 30% of the country before you leave?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I don’t know.
Sokol Balla: I’m going around the questions. When do you leave?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I wish I knew. Look, normally, if you look at the terms of the various American ambassadors who’ve been here, usually we’re here around three years. But ultimately it depends on the decision of the President, because the ambassador is the personal representative of the American President. And, it depends on our Senate who has to confirm whoever is nominated. So I have no way to predict. All I can say is that I’m here to do a job on behalf of my country, and I will keep doing it until the very last day. And I don’t know when that last day is.
Sokol Balla: Okay. How do you see the work that the government is doing itself to fight corruption?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: I think the government has made very important contributions. Justice reform would not be possible without the support and the participation of the government, the opposition, opinion leaders, media such as yourself, civil society and the public in general. You have to have everybody involved in an effort this important. To the extent that justice reform has been implemented and has made progress, the government and everybody else who is involved deserves credit. They deserve credit. We cannot pretend that we have made progress despite, you know, everybody else. It’s not true. It’s not enough for the United States or for the EU or for any foreigner to support justice reform. What will really matter in the end is the support of the Albanian people, Albanian institutions and Albanian leaders.
Now, 2022 featured two important conferences on the fight against corruption. There was a big conference that the United States hosted in December where the Justice Minister participated and reaffirmed the commitment of the government of Albania to the fight against corruption. And then I believe it was in June of this year, the government held a big anti-corruption conference. I spoke at that conference.
And what I said there was, I have to assume, based on the importance and the size of that conference in which the Prime Minister also participated, that the government continues to see the fight against corruption as a key priority. Now, it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. Again, something like justice reform is not going to be easy, quick or perfect.
It doesn’t mean that now we have nothing to worry about because we had a couple of conferences. What it means is that we publicly recommitted ourselves to the fight against corruption, both the United States and Albania, and that we must continue to do the hard work to move forward. That’s what that means.
Sokol Balla: Madam Ambassador, in the last six to seven months, I have seen that you have taken a more distant role towards internal political issues. Let’s say if 2022 started with the visit of Mr. Escobar and the interview that he gave to me in the U.S. embassy and the direct warnings, I wouldn’t call them threats, but warnings that he gave towards the developments inside the Democratic Party. I see that you and the embassy has taking a more distant role towards those developments. Is that a right perception like or … ?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: No, I see it differently. The U.S. position on the fight against corruption is very clear. As you noted earlier, President Biden issued a decision in June of 2021 stating that the fight against corruption is a core national security interest for the United States of America. When the American President says something like that, that’s serious. And actions follow. Part of that are the designations that the United States has issued. Once we issue those, we don’t rehash and rehash and rehash. The other element of all of this is that our focus, and we believe the focus of the Albanian people, has to be on the future. On the future. Where are you going? We all know where you’ve been. I don’t think anybody wants to go back there and I don’t think the Albanian people should allow anyone or anything to drag this country back to a dark past.
We have to move forward. There is a bright future ahead, but we have to move forward to get to that bright future. I’ve shown you the statistics on justice reform. I’ve shown you the statistics on trade. I can show you the statistics on our defense relationship as well. But we are making progress. We are making history together, right?
But to move forward, we’ve got to move both feet forward. We cannot let one foot be stuck in the past. We cannot let anyone or anything drag us back to the past. We don’t go there. We can’t go there. We have to move forward. This is why I keep saying that we have to move forward. Always together, always forward.
Sokol Balla: But then you have one of the two main political parties in turmoil and the fact of being in the hands of the past.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: So, this is a decision that the party and its supporters and ultimately Albanian voters have to make. We can’t make those decisions for them. We have made our designation in accordance with our national interest. The Albanian people, Albanian leaders have to make their decision based on what is in Albania’s national interest. We have our own opinion and we’ve offered it, which is that you must move forward. One of the things I think where we all agree is that in a democracy, the role of the opposition is extremely important. You must have a real opposition that not only has ideas and leadership, but is actually capable of winning elections. So, members of the Democratic Party will have to think about this question and they will have to decide accordingly.
We believe, as the United States, that we have a very special relationship with the Democratic Party. We were there from the moment of its birth. The only time that the American Ambassador has, “interfered” in domestic affairs, in domestic politics was in 1990-91, sorry, 1992, when my predecessor, Ambassador Ryerson, actually campaigned with the Democratic Party, with its leaders.
Sokol Balla: You have your residence named after him.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: … to tell people that they should vote for the Democratic Party because they represent the future. Our hope is that the Democratic Party will once again represent the future, will once again be the force that will be able to pull Albania forward, to drive it forward, not backwards.
Sokol Balla: That’s a beautiful thing to say, actually, because I completely believe that. But there are some people who don’t. And ironically enough, are the people inside the Democratic Party. And you mentioned that the real interference in the first sense of the word of the own internal politics of the U.S. ambassador has been in 91-’92 with Mr. Ryerson, of course all U.S. ambassadors have played an important, very important role, a primary, important role in Albania. That includes also you and your presence here. Some say that actually you did interfere more than you should in politics here. Personally, I liked it. Some others don’t. Do you acknowledge that maybe you have said or done something that misstepped to beat your duties as a U.S. ambassador here? Something that you will correct in the next phase of your career?
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Look, my job is to serve as the personal representative of the American President and in that capacity to implement and advance U.S. foreign policy when it comes to Albania. And when it comes to Albania, our focus is on strengthening democratic institutions, it’s on creating a situation where more American businesses can invest in Albania because it’s good for us, it’s good for you. And to develop a relationship that allows us as partners to be net contributors to security, not only for Albania, but for the region, and now, as members of the Security Council, for the world. That’s where our focus is. Now, sometimes people make accusations based on whether they like what the United States does or don’t like what the United States does. If they like it, then it’s a contribution, and if they don’t like it, then it’s interference. But at the end of the day, for us, it’s neither of those things. For us, we’re doing our job. I’m doing my job.
Sokol Balla: And I really have to thank you for that. And despite being subjective, I think that you are a strong ambassador, a strong woman, and a strong friend of Albania and Albanians. So, I thank you very much for being with me tonight. Thank you.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Thank you.
Sokol Balla: Pleasure. And I hope to see you again.
Ambassador Yuri Kim: Thank you.
Sokol Balla: Okay. We go to commercials and return in a bit, after this interview with Ambassador Yuri Kim.